Death row confessions and the last meal test of innocence

January 23, 2014 by Katherine Baildon

Can last meals reveal more about individuals on death row than their taste preference? Some have argued there is significance embedded in death row last meal decisions. Famously, Ricky Ray Rector asked to save his untouched pecan pie for after his execution. This request sparked significant discussion about Rector's competency – on the basis of his food request.

Similarly, in a documentary film about last suppers, artists Bigert and Bergstrom have claimed a connection between whether or not an individual choses to have a last meal and his or her guilt. In each case, there is an assertion that last meals are relevant to the legitimacy of an execution. It is these signals that Cornell University researchers Kevin Kniffin and Brian Wansink examined in this self-funded study. In particular, they studied whether an individual who has accepted guilt—by apologizing or confessing—is more likely to indulge in a last meal. They also looked at how their meals differ from those who maintain that they are innocent.

The researchers hypothesized that those who perceived themselves as innocent would request fewer calories or decline to receive a last meal altogether. After analyzing the last meals of 247 people who were executed in the United States between 2002 and 2006, they found the hypothesis to be accurate. Those who denied guilt were 2.7 times more likely to decline a last meal than those who admitted guilt. Furthermore those who were admittedly guilty requested 34% more calories of food and were more likely to request brand name, comfort-food items.

Social circumstance often gives meals meaning, so it is logical that the last of those on death row may signify something beyond taste preference. While there are many factors that could contribute to last meal selection, this study is the first to provide evidence of a link between food selection and self-perceived or innocence. These findings may be useful to the legal community in further assessing the innocence and perceived innocence of those who have received the death penalty in the past.

Explore further: Study: Condemned US inmates go for comfort foods (Update)

More information: Kniffin, K., & Wansink, B. (2014). Death row confessions and the last meal test of innocence. Laws, 1–11. DOI: 10.3390/laws3010001

Related Stories

Fat, protein impact postprandial glucose excursion in T1DM

December 19, 2013

(HealthDay)—For children with type 1 diabetes using intensive insulin therapy (IIT), high-fat (HF) and high-protein (HP) meals increase glucose excursions, with an additive effect observed, according to a study published ...

Food memories can help weight loss

March 18, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—Research led by a psychologist at the University of Liverpool has found that using memories of recent meals reduces the amount of food eaten later on.  It also found that being distracted when eating leads ...

Recommended for you

Ancient DNA offers new view on saber-toothed cats' past

October 19, 2017

Researchers who've analyzed the complete mitochondrial genomes from ancient samples representing two species of saber-toothed cats have a new take on the animals' history over the last 50,000 years. The data suggest that ...

Six degrees of separation: Why it is a small world after all

October 19, 2017

It's a small world after all - and now science has explained why. A study conducted by the University of Leicester and KU Leuven, Belgium, examined how small worlds emerge spontaneously in all kinds of networks, including ...

Scientists see order in complex patterns of river deltas

October 19, 2017

River deltas, with their intricate networks of waterways, coastal barrier islands, wetlands and estuaries, often appear to have been formed by random processes, but scientists at the University of California, Irvine and other ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

VENDItardE
1 / 5 (3) Jan 23, 2014
correlation does not prove causation

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.