The last statement written by death row inmate John King, who was executed Wednesday for the murder of James Byrd Jr., in 1998, was more provocative than contrite: “Capital punishment: Them without the capital get the punishment.” The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, or TDCJ, published that statement, just as it has for all 561 inmates the state has executed since 1982. But now, those written statements will no longer be shared with the public.
State Sen. John Whitmire sent a letter to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Monday asking the agency to stop publishing the last statements of the accused – a request the agency said it would honor.
Michelle Lyons is a former chief spokeswoman for TDCJ, and author of the book “Death Row: The Final Minutes: My life as an execution witness in America’s most infamous prison.” She’s witnessed hundreds of executions, and says each inmate facing execution has an opportunity to give a last statement once all the witnesses are present in the execution viewing room. They also have the option to write a statement hours before the execution is scheduled to take place. She says in most of the statements, inmates have apologized for their crimes – something she says is counter to Sen. Whitmire’s argument that last statements could retraumatize victims’ families.
“I think that this policy would actually hurt [the families] rather than help,” Lyons says. “It’s very rare that they write anything that’s political or that could be looked at as flippant, as in King’s case.”
What you’ll hear in this segment:
– Where the tradition of last words and last statements came from
– What purpose last words and last statements serve to the inmates, their families and others
– How Texas also stopped affording death row inmates a last meal before execution
Written by Caroline Covington.