Executed inmates' last words draw ire from lawmaker

Austin, Texas — A Texas lawmaker whose ire over a death row inmate’s expansive final feast in 2011 ended the practice of condemned prisoners choosing their last meal said Monday the state should now stop publicly reading the final statements of those who are executed.

It comes after a Texas prison spokesman last week read the last words of an avowed racist, John William King, who orchestrated one of the most gruesome hate crimes in U.S. history.

John William King Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice

King, who was white, was executed for the 1998 dragging death of James Byrd Jr., a black man. King said “no” when asked by a warden inside the nation’s busiest death chamber whether he had any last words before receiving a lethal injection. But a statement prepared by King was released following his execution.

“If a death row inmate has something to say to the public or victims, let him or her say it when they are strapped to the gurney,” state Sen. John Whitmire wrote in a letter to prison officials.

A spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday.

Whitmire has been in the Senate nearly 40 years. The Houston Democrat is one of Texas’ most powerful lawmakers over the criminal justice system and has spurred the prison system to previously change execution-day procedures.

John William King (C) grins as he is led from the John William King (C) grins as he is led from the Jasper County Courthouse after a jury sentenced him to death in his capital murder trial, February 25, 1999. Paul Buck / AFP/Getty Images

Texas death row inmates no longer choose their last meals after Whitmire expressed outrage over the dining request of a second man condemned for Byrd’s killing. Lawrence Russell Brewer ordered an extensive final meal in 2011. It included two chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, a pound of barbecue, three fajitas, a meat lover’s pizza, a pint of ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts. Prison officials said Brewer didn’t eat any of it.

King is not the first condemned Texas inmate to not speak any final words but still prepare a statement later released by the prison system. King’s statement read: “Capital punishment: them without the capital get the punishment.”

Byrd’s sister, Clara Taylor, who watched King die, said he “showed no remorse then and showed no remorse tonight.”

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