Death row is by far one of the most controversial aspects of the United States judicial system, and rightfully so. But what may be most controversial of all is how many people have potentially been wrongly executed. Since 1977, 144 people on death row have been exonerated, meaning that they were discovered to be innocent and released from death row. That means an untold number of innocent people have likely been executed. Let’s take a deeper look into the process of death row, and some unbelievable facts about the inmates and their lives on death row.You’ll never believe who ordered one black olive for their last meal!
1 In 25 people Sentenced To The Death Penalty In The U.S Are Innocent
In 2014, a study released by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences said that 4.1 percent of inmates on death row that are sentenced to death are likely innocent. This has also been described as a conservative estimate, and that the numbers may even be higher. Richard Dieter, Death Penalty Information Center executive director notes, “The problem of innocence’ is much worse than we thought”.”
It is discussed that wrongly convicted defendants are not vindicated is because many wins appeal to have their death sentences reduced to life in prison. After that, people aren’t as eager to help and prove their innocence.
Death Row: Exonerated Prisoners
More than 1,400 prisoners have been executed in the United States. But of these 1,400 souls, 151 of them have been exonerated—found to be innocent and released—from death row.
Many of those exonerated were convicted based on false testimony or forced confessions given under duress, but it’s unclear how many innocent people were sentenced to death before they could be exonerated. On average it takes 11 years for prisoners to be exonerated after being sentenced to death, meaning those wrongly convicted lose a large portion of their lives. Groups like the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty is working to stop the death penalty nationwide. The man above is Glenn Ford. He was wrongly convicted of first-degree murder and spent 30 years of his life behind bars.
The Oldest Inmate On Death Row
The oldest person who was executed being on death row was a man named Viva Leroy Nash. Nash started his criminal career at the age of 15 and was convicted of armed robbery. With 67.1 percent of death row inmates having prior offenses, this is no real surprise. He went on to commit a slew of other crimes like stealing vehicles, robbery, and attempted murder.
Nash’s string of crimes only worsened. In 1977, he killed a postman, and later killed a coin shop worker in 1982, landing him on death row. Nash spent all of his adult life in prison and died of natural causes at the age of 93 and was suffering from dementia.
The Longest Serving Inmate On Death Row
Gary Alvord is the inmate who has served the longest sentence on Death Row. He was convicted of murder on April 19, 1974. He had a lengthy stay in the crowbar Hilton for nearly 40 years. He served time in the State of Florida.
Like Viva Nash, he was re-sentenced to be executed. Alvord had a history of mental illness and was eventually diagnosed as schizophrenic. He was originally going to be executed in 1984, but his mental illness delayed his execution. After a long wait on death row, Gary Alvord actually died from natural causes instead of being executed on May 19, 2013.
Second Longest Time On Death Row
Brandon Jones served the longest time on death row between his conviction and execution. In October 1979, Brandon Jones murdered the manager Roger Tackett of a Tenneco convenience store during a robbery.
Brandon Jones was originally going to be executed in 1989, but he was sentenced to death in 1997 because jurors brought a Bible into the court, which could have improperly influenced jurors to base their decision on scripture and not law. Because of the re-trial and re-sentencing, Jones spent a total of 36 years on death row, making him the oldest person executed in Georgia. On February 3, 2016, he died by lethal injection.
Day-To-Day Life as a Death Row Inmate
The life of a death row inmate is described in two words: rules, and routines. Every day, the same things happen at the same time without a hitch. Breakfast is served at the same time, lights-out is that the same time, yard time, it’s all like clockwork. For the most part they are completely isolated except for being allowed to have one other inmate with them during their yard time.
“Death row inmates also tend to behave better than the rest of prison population most of the population because if you’re going to be back in court pleading for your life, you don’t want the judge to see you as a problem child,” said Stephan Longstreth, capital unit manager.
Death Row Differences
In some cases, some death row inmates surely have it better than others. In some prisons, the inmates are allowed televisions as long as they pay the bill, hold jobs to earn money, make collected phone calls and more.
However, some prisons like those in Texas are much more strict with smaller cells, and far fewer privileges than other prisons over the country. In some prisons, the inmates are even allowed two hours a day in the law library to help their own case although there is no access to the internet.
Continue on to read about the various methods of execution.
You may have seen a movie or even a documentary where people have been lined up against a wall. There are people across from them with guns drawn. All of a sudden the people against the wall are all of a sudden on the ground due to a hail of bullets coming at them.
Believe it or not, execution by firing squad has existed in the United States and was used up until 2010 in the state of Utah. The most current method includes a person sitting in a chair with a cloth crosshair put over the person’s heart. Several people take shots at once; in other cases, the first person to hit the bull’s eye determines who does not need to shoot.
Death By Hanging
The most common form of execution on death row in the United States before the year 1890 was hanging. However, hanging is still used in Deleware and Washington, yet there is an option for lethal injection. In order to be executed by hanging, a person would stand under the gallows and on top of a trap door which was underneath them.
The prisoner then had a noose placed around their neck, and the trap door would open. As the door opened, the prisoner fell. The fall is what broke the prisoner’s neck and that is what killed the prisoner. Sandbags were used to test the inmate’s weight to ensure a quick death but that was rarely the case. Eventually, this was ruled out as inhumane and better execution methods were adopted.
Death By Lethal Injection
The lethal injection method of executing a prisoner is the most common way of executing a prisoner. Some feel that this is the most “humane” way of executing an individual because there is no loss of blood or any other sickly results that could occur via hanging or being in front of a firing squad.
The lethal injection method was employed in 1977 and is the most common method a majority of states use for performing executions. The prisoner is strapped to a gurney. and a needle is inserted into the vein. A combination of drugs is then pumped into the body. The prisoner is sedated before they actually die, and this is why the injection method is considered to be “humane.” This is not always the case. There have been cases in which many have suffered greatly before they die.
The Gas Chamber
Many people think of the sickening acts of the Nazis and World War II when gas chambers are mentioned. Yet, many people may not know that America used gas chambers on prisoners as a form of execution at one point in time. However, today, lethal injection is only a viable option in five states, with lethal injection offered as an alternative.
The state of Nevada used a gas chamber in order to have a “humane” form of execution for prisoners. They originally had the gas flow through the walls of the inmate’s cell when it came time to execute the inmate, but they discovered that the gas would flow to other inmates as well. To prevent this, an actual chamber was made and it would fill with cyanide gas in order to kill inmates on death row.
Death By The Electric Chair
Many people are familiar with the electric chair, aka “The Chair” as referred to by those on death row. This method was used a lot back in the late 1800s and throughout the 1900’s, but since has been regarded as unconstitutional in February 2008.
The prisoner was typically shaved and then strapped to a chair with belts over their arms, legs, chest, and groin. Then, a metal skullcap-shaped electrode is attached the scalp and forehead over a sponge moistened with saline. They are then blindfolded and the switch is pulled. The amount of electricity to use was determined by each state. The power had to be turned off before the person could be removed from the chair or else the person removing the inmate could be electrocuted also. The electricity flows through the inmate’s body until they are dead usually resulting in the fracturing of bones, swelling of skin, defecation and the smell of burning.
Notable People Who Were On Death Row: Ted Bundy
Whenever serial killers are mentioned, one of the names that come to mind is Ted Bundy. Ted Bundy was a serial killer who gained notoriety because of his horrible crimes which include rape, kidnapping, and murder, and even cannibalism. The victim of his crimes were all women and it is said that he killed at least 30 women.
Bundy was eventually caught and tried and sentenced to death because of his ghastly crimes. His crimes were so horrifying that the details cannot be mentioned. It is highly believed that there were a lot more than 30 women that were killed at the hands of Bundy. On January 24, 1989, Bundy was executed by electric chair.
If you thought he was bad keep going to learn about John Wayne Gacy.
John Wayne Gacy
Another name that is synonymous with serial murder and death row is a man who went by the name of John Wayne Gacy Jr. Gacy’s crimes have secured him the status as one of the most deranged serial killers in modern history. He would perform acts as his alter ego known as Pogo the Clown, using this persona to lure in young boys so that he could commit horrible acts upon them.
Gacy’s crimes range from rape to murder. He went on his sadistic killing spree from 1972 to 1978, raping and killing 33 boys and young men total. he was known to store the bodies under the crawlspace of his house as well as scattered body parts around his property. On May 10, 1994, Gacy died by lethal injection.
Richard Ramirez, also known as “The Night Stalker”, was a serial killer who many people lost sleep over during the mid-80s. This was due to his relentless murder spree, killing both men and women and then flawlessly eluding law enforcement. Richard Ramirez killed at least 13 men and women over the span of a year from June 1984 to August 1985.
His picture was posted on television as there was a manhunt that occurred to try and find him. He would break into people’s houses to rape and then kill women. A majority of his victims were over the age of 60. One of his victims was a nine-year-old girl. He was finally caught and sentenced to life on death row. Richard Ramirez died of Hepatitis C on June 7, 2013.
Allen Lee Davis
Allen Lee Davis was an individual who was on death row for the murder of a pregnant woman by the name of Nancy Weiler. Nancy Weiler also had two children, who were age five and age nine respectively were also murdered by Allen Lee Davis. The unborn child of the Nancy Weiler died also from Allen Lee Davis’s attack. Davis also committed several robberies as well.
Allen Lee Davis was caught and was sentenced to die. He died via the electric chair in 1999. After the gruesome details of his execution became public knowledge, Davis was the last person who was executed via the electric chair in the state of Florida.
Aileen Wuornos had an incredibly difficult life. She was seriously abused as a child and was forced to make her living as a sex worker. However, in 1989, she killed a man that picked her up and continued to do so to at least five other men.
After her arrest, she was put on death row, and although her sanity was in question, she was still executed by lethal injection in 2002. Since her death, there have been documentaries, books, films, and even an opera about her story.
John Louis Evans
Not long after his release from prison, John Louis Evans went on a crime spree with a friend that consisted of 30 armed robberies, nine kidnappings, and two cases of extortion. After his spree, he was finally caught in 1977 after he killed a pawn shop owner.
What makes his case notable were the circumstances of his death. He was to be executed in Alabama by electric chair. However, the electric chair was faulty and it took multiple tries to finally kill him, making for a terrible death.
Keep reading to check out some of death row’s final inmates requested for their final meal before their execution.
Bizarre Food Request – One Black Olive
In some prisons, those who are on death row get to have one last meal before they exit the world of the living. Robert Buell was a criminal who was convicted of the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl. Robert Buell was caught and he was sentenced to die in the state of Ohio.
Robert Buell had one strangest requests of his last meal the night before he was executed. He asked for one black olive with the pit in it. That way, he hoped that an olive tree, a symbol for peace would sprout from his grave. This is very bizarre, but at least he was thinking peaceful thoughts before his death.
A man by the name of Miguel Richardson was accused and later found guilty for the slayings of two security guards. He was tried and sentenced to die in the state of Texas.
The meal that Miguel Richardson requested was a birthday cake. The birthday cake had the date of when he got married with seven pink candles on top of it. To make things more bizarre, he also requested some fruit and a salad with Thousand Island dressing on the side. If you are going to go, birthday cake and a salad may or may not be a bad choice for the last meal after all.
Jolly Rancher Candy
A sweet ending for a sour individual on death row. A man named Gerald Mitchell was involved with a botched robbery which resulted in the deaths of two people. Gerald Mitchell was apprehended and was tried. He was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death in the state of Texas. The state of Texas holds the record of having more people die on death row than any other state in the Union.
Gerald Mitchell requested that his last meal be a bag of Jolly Rancher Candy. I guess one last sugar rush is all one needs before dying by lethal injection in 2001.
Justice, Equality, And World Peace
Intangible food is what was on the menu for a man by the name of Odell Barnes. Odell Barnes’ last meal request consisted of justice, equality, and world peace. This had to be the most outrageous request for someone who was about to have their last meal on Earth.
It is hard to imagine how this would fit on the plate of someone who deprived a person of their life. Odell Barnes was convicted of killing a woman during a break-in. and was sentenced to die in 2000. No one knows how his last meal was eaten, but his final request seems a bit ironic for someone that murdered an innocent woman.
A Lump Of Dirt
There is nothing better than the taste of dirt, maybe there is. For James Edward Smith, any meal would be great, especially before being executed for the murder of a man during a foiled robbery. James Edward Smith was involved in a robbery of a cashier’s office, which resulted in a man’s death at his hands.
Smith was found guilty and was placed on death row as a result. For his last meal request, he wanted a lump of dirt. Some say that he was trying to thumb his nose at the justice system with this bizarre request. He did not get his last request, and he was given yogurt instead. It would have been more appropriate to give him dirt because he took a dirt nap after the execution.
Gacy’s Unsurprising Last Meal
John Wayne Gacy’s last meal was far from unsurprising. It consisted of fried shrimp, a bucket of fried chicken from KFC, french fries, and a pound of strawberries. It’s peculiar that Gacy specifically selected KFC fried chicken because he managed three stores before he was arrested.
Gacy to this day potentially has the largest final meal order on record. This is interesting because a man that knows he is going to die the next day might not have the biggest appetite. But not Gacy who seems to have been unaffected by his imminent death.
Timothy McVeigh’s Sweet Tooth
Timothy McVeigh was the American terrorist responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing in on April 19, 1995. At the age of 33, he was sentenced to death in an Indiana prison for the murder of 168 people and the injury of over 600 more.
For his final meal, he requested two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream, and that’s all. A strange order for a strange man. The next day he was killed by lethal injection. His execution was hasty as he was only on death row for four years instead of the usual 15.
Angel Nieves Diaz Lost His Appetite
Angel Nieves Diaz was sentenced to death by lethal injection in Florida for murder, kidnapping, and armed robbery. When asked what he wanted for his last meal, he declined and was served a regular prison meal.
However, he declined to eat that as well. Turns out that Diaz lost his appetite before his death unlike John Wayne Gacy, who make sure that his last meal was his best. Can’t blame him for not wanting to eat prison food for his last meal either.
Ronnie Lee Gardner’s Last Taste of Middle Earth
At the age of 49, Robert Lee Gardner was sentenced to death in Utah by firing squad. He was sentenced to death for burglary, robbery, and two counts of murder. For his last meal, he really took advantage and requested steak, lobster tail, apple pie, and ice cream.
Yet, what was interesting about his last meal was that he also requested to eat it as he watched The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Not a bad film series to watch for your last time, and not a bad last meal either.
Traditional Last Meal: Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy was one of the most notorious serial killers in American history responsible for more than 35 counts of murder, as well as instances of rape, necrophilia, and prison escape.
He was sentenced to death by electric chair in Florida. Bundy declined a special meal, so he was given a traditional last meal in Florida which consists of a steak cooked medium rare, eggs over easy, hash browns, toast with butter and jelly, and a glass of milk and a glass of juice.
John Spenkelink’s Liquid Dinner
Spenkelink was a small-time criminal who had served time in California and at one point escaped from Stack Canyon Prison camp. After his escape, he shot and killed another petty criminal named Joseph Szymankiewicz in Tallahassee, Florida in 1973. Although he claimed it was self-defense, he was convicted of first-degree murder and was sentenced to death.
He was executed by electric chair in Florida on May 25, 1979. For his last meal, he denied food and asked for Jack Daniels whiskey. So instead of food, he was given two shots of the bourbon, which is probably much less than he had hoped for.
The Most Popular Last Desserts
As it turns out, in a death Row study, ice cream and pie have proven to be the most popular desserts for those receiving their last meal. After that, the second most popular dessert is cake.
Apparently, if you know that you’re going to be executed the next day, having pie and ice cream might not be the worst thing to top off your last meal on Earth. Or, you could be like Timothy McVeigh and skip the dinner and go straight for dessert.
Texas No Longer Allows Inmates On Death Row To Choose Their Last Meal
After committing a murderous hate crime in 1998, Russell Brewer was sentenced to death in Texas. For his last meal, Brewer asked for two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions; a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger; a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers and jalapeños; a bowl of fried okra with ketchup; one pound of barbecued meat with half a loaf of white bread; three fajitas; a meat-lover’s pizza; one pint of Blue Bell Ice Cream; a slab of peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts; and three root beers.
The meal cost hundreds of dollars and Brewer ate none of it. It was later brought up by state legislatures that those sentenced to death should not be allowed such a privilege. The Department of Criminal Justice agreed and thanks to Brewer, prisoners in Texas are no longer allowed to choose their final meal.
Philip Workman’s Selfless Last Meal
Philip Workman was convicted in 1982 for the murder of a police officer after robbing a Wendy’s restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee. He was then sentenced to death by lethal injection May 9, 2007.
For his last meal, he asked for a vegetarian pizza to be given to a homeless person. He was denied his request so Workman refused to eat anything. After his death, homeless shelters across Tennessee received a large number of vegetarian pizzas from people all over the country honoring Workman’s final request. It was noted that “He was trying to do a good deed and no one helped him,” so the community took matters into their own hands.
Unbelievable Death Row Facts: Troy Leon Gregg
Troy Leon Gregg was the first condemned individual whose death penalty was upheld by the Supreme Court after the Furman v. Georgia decision which invalidated all previously enacted death penalty laws in the United States.
Gregg was convicted of murdering two men while robbing them after they had picked up Gregg who was hitchhiking. On July 28, 1980, the night before his execution, Gregg and three other inmates escaped from Georgia State Prison in the first death row breakout in Georgia history. However, the night of their escape, Gregg was beaten to death in a bar fight in North Carolina. So close, yet so far.
Too Fat To Be Hanged
In 1981, Mitchell Rupe shot and killed two bank tellers un Olympia, Washington. During his trial, Rupe was found guilt of aggravated murder and was sentenced to death. However, during this time, the only form of capital punishment in Washington was by hanging. yet, Rupe weighed over 400 lbs and argued that he was too fat to hang which would result in decapitation and would constitute under cruel and unusual punishment.
He was then subjected to numerous court proceedings and was twice sentenced to death. in 1994, a judge ruled he was too big to hang and after a third trial, he was sentenced to life behind bars. He lived until 2006 when he died of liver disease.
Gary Gilmore: “Just Do it”
Gary Gilmore received national attention after demanding the death sentence for two murders that he committed in Utah. After the death penalty statutes in the 1976 Supreme Court decision of Gregg v. Georgia, he was the first person to be executed in the United States in almost ten years.
In 1977, he was executed by a firing squad. Before his death, his last words were, “Let’s do it.” The founder of Wieden+Kennedy agency Dan Wieden came up with the famous Nike slogan “Just do it,” and credits his inspiration for the phrase from Gilmore’s final words. A bit morbid, but is now one of the most well-known product slogans of all time.
Harris County, Texas
Harris County, Texas has executed more people than any other county in the United States. Of the 524 people that were executed in Texas in 1976, 116 of them were sentenced in Harris County. It is the state’s most populous county and the nation’s third.
There have been more people executed in Harris County than in Oklahoma, which is the state that follows Texas for the most executions. However, as of recently, the death sentences in Harris County have begun to drop along with the rest of the county. However, if you had any sense, you still wouldn’t go around committing crimes in Harris County.
An Unfortunate Mix-Up
In 1989, a man named Carlos DeLuna was put to death by lethal injection for the murder of a 24-year-old gas station employee in Corpus Christi in 1983. He denied being guilty from his arrest all the way up until his execution.
Officials took no real consideration for alternate possibilities in the case and considered it a slam dunk. However, it turns out that the actual murderer was a man named Carlos Hernandez who was a similar-looking man from a nearby neighborhood. DeLuna was the victim of a serious mix up which cost him his life.
Florida Officials Keep Their Hands Clean
In Florida, executions are not carried out by state officials, but private citizens who are paid $150 per execution and can remain anonymous. This seems a bit odd and possibly an outlet for someone who wants to kill people for fun and will eventually find themselves on Death Row.
However, apparently, it is an effective method, and it’s not just a way for people with ill intentions to legally kill somebody.
Execution Drugs Have Risen In Texas
In Texas, the price of execution drugs for lethal injection is now 15 times higher than it was a year ago. Last year, it cost the Texas Department of Criminal of Justice around $83 to execute an individual by lethal injection. Now, it the cost has risen to almost $1,300.
Death penalty abolitionists are now using this increase in the price for execution as yet another reason why the practice should come to an end. Yet, Texas has managed to stock up on $50,000 worth of execution drugs, which should keep them well-enough supplied for the foreseeable future.
Death Row Inmates Training Dogs?
At a prison in Tucker, Arkansas, dogs have been paired up with Death Row inmates as a way to help both the dogs and the inmates. The program is called Paws in Prison, in which Death Row inmates are used to help train dogs that are soon to be euthanized how to act and behave so they can get adopted.
In turn, this helps to give the inmates a sense of purpose, and they learn from the dogs too. Prisoners get a chance to be in the program if they have good behavior, which is motivating to them. The bonds between the dog and the inmate become quite strong since they are both in similar situations, and over 200 dogs have been saved since the start of the program.