The recitation of a Texas death row inmate’s final words by a prison official drew the ire of state Sen. John Whitmire, who’s now calling on the state to stop publicizing the final written statements of condemned prisoners.
“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,” Whitmire, a Democrat and longest–serving member of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee said in a letter to prison officials on Monday.
The request comes after the state executed white supremacist John William King, 43, last week for his role in the 1998 dragging death of James Byrd Jr. King, a white man, was accused of orchestrating what’s been called one of the most gruesome hate crimes in modern U.S. history.
Prosecutors believe Byrd, who was African-American, was targeted because of his race.
When asked if he had any final words, prison officials said King simply closed his eyes and replied “no.” The avowed racist did prepare a written statement, however, which was read publicly to assembled media by Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jeremy Desel after King’s execution.
“Capital Punishment: them without the capital get the punishment,” it read.
Whitmire, 69, was less than pleased about the statement and said he was “shocked” to learn that Desel had read it. He called King’s final words “totally improper” and said the reading was disrespectful to Byrd’s family and to the people of Texas.
As reported by the Corpus Christi Caller Times, the Texas prison system typically “provides media with information about a condemned inmate’s final hours leading up to the execution” and that a spokesperson will also give a description of the execution to reporters who aren’t authorized to witness the proceedings in the death chamber.
Bryan Collier, executive director for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, responded to Whitmire’s letter on Tuesday, saying he understood the senator’s concerns about the final written statements of death row inmates.
“Moving forward, should the offender choose to write a statement, it will be inventoried with their belongings and given to their pre-determined designee after their execution,” Collier wrote. “The agency will only relay to the public the last verbal statement given in the execution chamber.”
Whitmire’s ire over another death row inmate’s expansive final feast in 2011 prompted the state to nix its practice of letting condemned inmates choose their final meals, The Associated Press reported. Lawrence Russell Brewer, the first man put to death for Byrd’s murder, requested a feast of three fajitas, two fried chicken steaks, a meat lover’s pizza, fried okra, one pound of barbecue, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, a pint of ice cream and peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts.
Brewer didn’t eat any of it.
King became the second man to be put to death in the case after Brewer died by lethal injection in 2011. The third assailant, Shawn Allen Berry, was sentenced to life in prison.