Web site details final-meal requests on death row

By Jonathan Tilove

Newhouse News Service

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — It begins in 1982 with Charlie Brooks' straightforward desire for a "T-bone steak, French fries, catsup, Worcestershire sauce, rolls, peach cobbler and ice tea."

The 248th entry, dated June 26, 2001, was Miguel "Silky" Richardson's more exotic hankering for a "chocolate birthday cake with '2/23/90' (his wedding anniversary) written on top, seven pink candles, one coconut, kiwi fruit juice, pineapple juice, one mango, grapes, lettuce, cottage cheese, peaches, one banana, one delicious apple, chef salad without meat and with Thousand Island dressing, fruit salad, cheese and tomato slices."

One of the more macabre artifacts of the culture of capital punishment in America is the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Final Meals Request Web site.

It's a list built on comfort food, laden with gravy and light on sauce; nothing balsamic, nothing sauteed, and barely a hint of the spices in the middle range between salt and jalapeno peppers (though one man asked for jalapenos and tomatoes boiled with garlic and cumin).

Read aloud, with the right pauses, some even sound like bizarrely bittersweet poems of parting.

Here is Ricky McGinn's spare entry for his last repast before his Sept. 27, 2000, execution: "Chicken-fried steak with white gravy, French fries with white gravy, lots of salt and pepper, and sweet ice tea."

This was McGinn's second final-meal request. On June 1 of that year, he consumed his first last supper — a cheeseburger, fries and a Dr Pepper — only to receive a temporary reprieve by former Gov. George W. Bush for DNA testing. In an interview with the San Antonio Express-News, McGinn said he enjoyed his first last meal but "caught a lot of flak" for its lack of imagination.

The Web site is the province of Larry Fitzgerald, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and its death chamber, in the Huntsville Unit and known as the Walls.

Texas is state-of-the-art when it comes to executions, and state-of-the-art when it comes to informing the world about them. The state hanged prisoners from 1819 to 1923, and electrocuted them from 1924 to 1964. Lethal injection began with Brooks in 1982.

Fitzgerald said the Final Meals page was created to provide the public and press with public information in as convenient a fashion as possible. As a rule, Fitzgerald said, American reporters appreciate the site and European journalists are appalled by it.

The meals are generally rooted in East Texas cuisine, with T-bones proving popular through the years. In fact, seven of the first nine men listed had T-bones.

Michael Evans, who cut a church pianist with a carpet knife while she prayed to God to forgive him, was the first inmate, on Dec. 4, 1986, to decline a last meal, an occasional choice through the years. Pickax killer Karla Faye Tucker, who became a cause celebre before her execution Feb. 3, 1998, ordered the closest things on the site to a diet plate: a banana, a peach and a garden salad with ranch dressing.

The meals are prepared from what's available in the prison kitchen, by other inmates. Until recently that often meant Brian Price, who had been in the Walls unit since 1989. But Price, a San Antonian, cooked his last last supper in June and has since been released.

Among his post-prison plans is publishing a cookbook based on his experience. Its title: "Meals to Die For."

Source: The Seattle Times (July 17, 2001)