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The death penalty: Last orders

ON SEPTEMBER 21st Lawrence Russell Brewer ordered up a feast: two chicken-fried steaks smothered in gravy, a supersized cheeseburger, an omelette, fried okra, fajitas, a pizza, a pound of barbecue, half a loaf of bread, and, for pudding, ice cream and fudge with peanuts on top.But when it arrived, he decided not to eat any of it. He may well not have been hungry. Mr Brewer, a white supremacist, was about to be executed for a murder committed in 1998, when he and two other men tortured a black man, James Byrd Jr, and dragged him to death behind a truck. It was one of the most notorious crimes in modern Texas history, and one that had already changed the law; in 2001 Rick Perry, the newly inaugurated governor, signed a bill mandating stricter penalties for hate crimes.Now Mr Brewer’s final request has brought another change to Texas justice. On September 22nd John Whitmire, a state senator from Houston, sent an angry letter to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. “Enough is enough,” he wrote; such privileges are “ridiculous”. The department’s director agreed, and announced that from now on all prisoners will get the same meal.The last meal has always been a strange aspect of executions. Eating is for people with a future. Some offenders resist the irony, and request nothing but a glass of water. But most accept some final comfort. And in reading their requests the bathos…

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