Last Words

On March 2, 2010, Michael Adam Sigala was executed by the state of Texas for?the double murder of Brazilian newlyweds Kleber and Lillian Santos. Just before his lethal injection was administered, Sigala was given the opportunity to make a last statement, and he offered?these words:

I would like to ask forgiveness of the family. I have no reason for why I did it, I don’t understand why I did it. I hope that you can live the rest of your lives without hate. I pray the Lord grant me forgiveness. All powerful and almighty Lord I commit myself to thee, Amen.

Texas – where?more than a third of our nation’s executions have occurred since 1976 – has routinized the administration of justice, and preserves on a single?webpage the final statements of the 450 inmates the state has executed since 1982.??? A?2009 New York Times op-ed cataloged a number of excerpts taken from the Texas site, including:

Nothing I can say can change the past.

I done lost my voice.

I would like to say goodbye.

My heart goes is going ba bump ba bump ba bump.

Is the mike on?

I don’t have anything to say. I am just sorry about what I did.

I am nervous and it is hard to put my thoughts together. Sometimes you don’t know what to say.

Man, there is a lot of people there.

I have come here today to die, not make speeches.

From Allah we came and to Allah we shall return.

For everybody incarcerated, keep your heads up.

Death row is full of isolated hearts and suppressed minds.

Mistakes are made, but with God all things are possible.

I am responsible for them losing their mother, their father and their grandmother. I never meant for them to be taken. I am sorry for what I did.

I can’t take it back.

Lord Jesus forgive of my sins. Please forgive me for the sins that I can remember.

All my life I have been locked up.

Give me my rights. Give me my rights. Give me my rights. Give me my life back.

I am tired.

I deserve this.

A life for a life.

It’s my hour. It’s my hour.

I’m ready, Warden.

The ritual of offering condemned men and women the choice of a last meal and the opportunity to articulate last words has served a variety of functions, which are explored by Linda Meyer in?this essay.? The ritual can provide evidence of an inmate’s (in)competency to be executed – “as in the case of Ricky Ray Rector, who left some of his ‘last meal’ pecan pie ‘for later.'”? At times, inmates in their last moments have provided valuable information – disclosing, for example, the location of victims’ remains.

Meyer emphasizes the liberating aspect of an inmate being able to say what he or she wants without earthly ramifications:

It is an almost-perfectly Kantian moment, when one has the chance to act without concern for consequences, when the pressures of finitude are lifted and our position almost resembles the perfect being of reason who has no inclinations contrary to reason.

A new empirical article by?Stephen K. Rice, Danielle Dirks and Julie J. Exline statistically examines?what happens during this “Kantian moment.”

The authors find that in 36 percent of the last statements, the inmate admits responsibility, and in 32 percent of the statements, the inmate expresses sorrow or seeks forgiveness from the victim’s family.? In contrast, only 10 percent of the last statements were coded as criticizing the legitimacy of the death penalty.

But what’s really interesting is how the content of final statements changed after Texas, on January 12, 1996, began allowing family and friends of homicide victims to attend executions.

After that date, inmate final statements were more likely to admit guilt (43 percent vs. 14 percent), and more likely to seek forgiveness of the victim’s family (41 percent vs. 6 percent).? Of course, other things may have happened in society in these later years that drove this increased contrition.? And the authors of the study are careful to point out that the time dummy is merely a proxy for “homicide survivor attendance” because, for some of these post-January 1996 executions, the victim’s family and friends were not in attendance.? Still, the study at least suggests that context matters.? Humans who know they are about to die are not solely focused on themselves or on their hereafter.? They are attentive to their audience.

The study is not the “last word” on the subject.? This data set grimly grows over time.? Texas has two more executions scheduled for later this month.


Jay J

"The study is not the 'last word' on the subject."

Thank you ladies and gentlemen, I'll be here all week!

James Myers

Making the Dismal Science even more dismal. Nice goin guys. Texas applies capital punishment with a ferocious barberism.

Loren

@James - It is definitely one mean haircut!

GLK

It's only ferocious barbarism if your loved one wasn't the one that was slaughtered, or if there's any doubt regarding the accusation of guilt. But when the convicted admit guilt, the death penalty is simply the best application of available and appropriate justice

Steve Neubauer

@James Myers

For fear of feeding the troll, do you know just how many opportunities a death-row inmate has to appeal and how long an inmate is incarcerated prior to his execution? There is ample time to prove one's innocence again anf again from beginning to end.

Joe Justice

These people were in jail for very barbaric reasons - they deserve no sympathy or mercy. Justice is served and it's served well in the majority of these cases. Glad that some places still deal out capital punishment - it's the right decision.

Andrew

Nah, it's still ferocious barbarism.

José

@GLK

Justice is difference from revenge. Justice should be the moral example for society. If the court kills people that's an hell of an example for society.

Kitt Hirasaki

Contained in these rolls is the last statement of (wrongly accused) Cameron Todd Willingham, profiled in the New Yorker:

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/09/07/090907fa_fact_grann

His statement was:

Yeah. The only statement I want to make is that I am an innocent man - convicted of a crime I did not commit. I have been persecuted for 12 years for something I did not do. From God's dust I came and to dust I will return - so the earth shall become my throne. I gotta go, road dog. I love you Gabby. [Remaining portion of statement omitted due to profanity.]

http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/stat/willinghamcameronlast.htm

Ben

I fail to see how the death penalty can be supported when there is ample evidence that we have repeatedly incarcerated and killed innocent people. The absolute destruction brought about on the person, family and friends of those wrongly put to death is an almost unbearable thought. At least if we keep them alive, we can let them out when we realize we were wrong. I can only imagine the fury you would feel when the state tells you that your spouse, whom they put to death, was actually innocent the whole time.

jdiec

Capital punishment is generally reserved for those criminals where there is both a overwhelming preponderance of evidence and an utter lack of remorse which tends to manifest in the person persistantly maintaining their innocence (unless they are truly sociopathic).
From a moral perspective, as the death penalty is irreversible, I would think people would be inclined to give out lesser sentences for all but the truly irredemable.
From an economic perspective, if the convicted admits guilt, the death penalty can usually be plea bargained to at least a life sentence. A prosecutor who is primarily concerned with obtaining a guilty verdict and less concerned with the sentence, it is in their interest to avoid the lengthy and costly process involved in order to obatin the death penalty if another punitive measure can be agreed to.

That so many executions are obtained in Texas seems to imply that the criminals are either particularly remorseless or that the justice system there is particularly vindictive.

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Alex

This reminds of an unfortunate book I read once, called "I'm in the Tub, Gone." A collection of suicide notes.

Ken Arromdee

Without the death penalty, you still get dead innocent people, it's just that they die by having their life taken away from them a year at a time in life sentences instead of all at once. And they probably don't get an opportunity to write dramatic death speeches.

Punishing innocent people is an inevitable consequence of having a justice system that punishes people at all. You may as well argue that we should never go to war because sometimes an innocent person will get killed by our troops. Some pacifists do believe that but in general it's not a very common belief.

Holly Loudly

Death penalty is Wrong.

matunos

@Ken:

Conflating execution with all forms of punishment is fallacious. Yes, an innocent person might spend their life behind bars. But at least, during that time, they have the possibility of being released. The argument is only analogous to civilian deaths in war if the civilians are targeted, and I daresay most of us do not support the targeting of civilians during war.

Given that, in this day and age, putting someone through a death penalty case, and then keeping them on death row for years while they go through the various appeals processes is so massively expensive versus life in prison, the only explanation for why we do it can be vengeance, not justice.

awesome

As citizens...as human beings we are all entitled to certain rights and freedoms - the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for example. When you willingly take another persons life you forfeit these basic rights for the betterment of society as a whole - excluding instances of self-defense or military and law enforcement officers doing their sworn duty.

Don Sakers

Not trying to be smart here, just a serious question: If the goal is punishment for heinous crimes, isn't a quick, painless death LESS of a punishment than a long lifetime of suffering? If you really want the person punished, why wouldn't you prefer that they spend many, many years festering in prison?

Kevin Camp

Surely, with all these executions, the violent crime rate in Texas must be the lowest in the U.S. right? ...Right?

AaronS

The death penalty no longer serves as a deterrent when it takes over a decade to bring justice--sometimes well after the grandparents of the victim have died.

There must be a link, it seems, between the deed and the justice. When you put years between the two, the deterrent effect likely isn't much. Worse, every day inmates can now hope for some judge to change the system.

Very simply, if there is no question of guilt in a heinous crime (e.g., DNA, video, confession, etc.), the execution should be within a month of sentencing, it seems to me.

Further, for particularly heinous crimes, I think a lot of currently excluded evidence (including past applicable record and improper searches the show guilt) should NOT be excluded. ONLY for these most serious of crimes. For that matter, double jeopardy shouldn't count for things such as child killing, etc.

I'm sorry if that bothers notions of civil rights. As far as I'm concerned, if you harm a child, you must die.

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Obijan

Does it have my favorite "Tell my lawyer he is fired" ?

What I would like to see is some "freakomic review" of other questions like:

- Where does the US stand wrt death penalty versus the rest of the world?
- What is the impact of death penalty on crime rate?
- What is the cost of this versus "life imprisonment" ?

Or would that be too "nonconformist" questions?