How Murderer Lawrence Brewer Ended Death Row Meal Requests For The State Of Texas

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Death row inmates are allowed to have or do something before they are executed. Some request a final visit from their loved ones, others talk with a chaplain, and a few are given the choice of people they want to have as witnesses when they are put to death. For many states, one of the last things afforded inmates before death is the last meal wherein they are given whatever food they desire before they die (via How Stuff Works). Specific regulations must be followed in some states. In Florida, for instance, the price of the requested meal must not be worth more than $40, and all the food must be available to buy locally. Other states allow any type of food, as long as it is available in the prison kitchen.

Many death row inmates choose their favorite food, including pizzas, steaks, fried chicken, or burgers, but there have also been some simple requests, including a cup of coffee (Aileen Wuornos), mint chocolate chip ice cream (Timothy McVeigh), and one olive (Victor Feguer), per List 25. In Texas, death row inmates to be executed no longer get to have their choice of a last meal because of inmate Lawrence Brewer.

Who was Lawrence Brewer?

Lawrence Russell Brewer was one of the men convicted in the murder of a 49-year-old African American man named James Byrd Jr. In June 1998, Brewer and two other men were riding in a pickup truck and chanced upon Byrd while he was walking home to his apartment after a night of drinking with friends. Brewer and his companions offered Byrd a ride home, which he accepted. However, things took a bad turn when the men beat up and tortured Byrd before chaining him to the pickup truck and dragging his body for 5 kilometers (per Britannica). They then left his dead body in front of an African American church.

Brewer and one of the other men were members of the Confederate Knights of America, and during the investigation, white supremacist-related items were discovered in his home, as reported by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Byrd's murder was classified as racially-motived murder, and Brewer was convicted. He was sentenced to death in September 1999.

Lawrence Brewer's final meal

In 2011, Lawrence Brewer's appeals were exhausted and he received his execution date. As noted by Corrections 1, the history in Texas of giving inmates a choice for their last meal went as far back as 1924. Brewer was provided his request of a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger, two chicken fried steaks with gravy and onions, fried okra with ketchup, cheese and ground beef omelet, meat lover's pizza, one pound of barbecue, white bread, three fajitas, peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts, one pint of Blue Bell ice cream, and three root beers. However, he didn't eat a single bite when the extravagant spread was presented to him.

Texas Senator John Whitmire was outraged. In a statement, he said Brewer never gave the man he murdered a chance to get a final meal. "It's wrong to treat a vicious murderer in this fashion. Let him eat the same meal on the chow line as the others," Whitmire said, The New York Times reported. In regard to the fact that Brewer refused to eat the lavish meal he demanded, Whitmire said that he made a mockery of the system.

No more last meals in Texas

After John Whitmire's statement, Brad Livingston, the executive director of the prison system, immediately stopped the tradition. "I believe Senator Whitmire's concerns regarding the practice of allowing death row offenders to choose their last meal are valid," he said, per The New York Times. However, not everyone shared the same sentiments. Brian Price, a former death row chef, told CNN in 2011 that the last meal tradition should continue. "Justice is going to be served when this person is executed, but can we not show our softer side? Our compassionate side?" Price said.

Price was an inmate for 14 years, and as part of his job in prison, he cooked the last meals of death row inmates. When he cooking for an inmate who was going to be executed, he imagined preparing a final meal for a family member. He published a cookbook titled "Meals to Die For," which is a compilation of the last meal requests of Texas death row inmates. After his release from prison, Price opened his own restaurant and upon learning that the state stopped providing last meals, he offered to cook and pay for all last meals. He said he wasn't, in any way, minimizing the crimes that the inmates committed, but he wanted to show a bit of compassion. However, the state refused the offer, saying that the decision to end it wasn't about the cost; it's "more the concept that we're moving away from," a spokesman stated.