Death row has been much in the news lately, from Illinois, where the governor has declared a moratorium on executions, to the advertising pages of glossy magazines, where Benetton courted controversy with its photos of death row inmates.
And, on Thursday evening in Texas, Betty Lou Beets, 62, was executed. Convicted of killing her fifth husband, she is believed to have killed her fourth as well. She also shot and wounded her second husband.
Beets' death came with a wealth of statistics -- the second woman executed in Texas since the Civil War, the fourth female executed in the United States since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, the ninth Texas prisoner executed this year, the 208th Texas prisoner executed since 1982.
These statistics, and others, can be found, or inferred, from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's official Web site: www.tdcj.state.tx.us/-statistics/ stats-home.htm. The site includes a racial breakdown of all those the state has executed, as well as a list of condemned prisoners who were later removed from death row.
It also reminds visitors that Texas has executed more men and women than any other state and -- along with Florida and California -- has the largest death row population among the 38 states with capital punishment.
But perhaps the site's strangest feature is the rundown of last suppers eaten by those on Texas' death row: www.tdcj.state.tx. us/-stat/finalmeals.htm. Whatever one's feelings about capital punishment, the list inspires thoughts about mortality, last wishes and cholesterol.
Why does the site include this information?
"Because most of the reporters have a morbid sense of curiosity about the intimate details of the execution process," explains department spokesman Larry Todd. "And rather than going over it a dozen times to the news media, and since it is public record, we decided to place it on the Internet."
Todd says the site is updated daily, but as of yesterday, the "final meals" tally went only to 206. (Beets reportedly declined a last meal.) So the numbers below are based on those available through the site.
Most requested food item: The cheeseburger, chosen 47 times, followed by steak -- usually specified as "T-bone" -- 34 times.
Food items unique to certain inmates: Frosted Flakes (Jeffrey Barney); chitterlings (Sammie Felder Jr.); liver and onions (Larry White); salmon croquettes (Clydell Coleman).
Largest meal requested: 24 soft-shell tacos, six enchiladas, six tostadas, two whole onions, five jalapenos, two cheeseburgers, one chocolate shake, one quart of milk (David Castillo).
Number of inmates who declined or consumed no final meal: 31
Number of inmates who declined, then agreed to eat a hamburger, at mother's request: One.
Number of inmates who requested a salad for the final meal: One, Karla Tucker, the first Texas woman executed since 1863.
Number of inmates who requested a Dr Pepper: Seven.
Number who requested Pepsi: Two.
Non-consumable requests: "Justice, Temperance, with Mercy" (Carlos Santana -- not the famous one); that final meal be given to a homeless person (Robert Madden).
Number of inmates who requested alcohol and/or tobacco as part of their final meal: 14.
Number of inmates allowed to have alcohol or tobacco at their final meal: Zero. (Alcohol is allowed only for religious ceremonies in Texas prisons; tobacco has been banned since 1992.)
Number of inmates who requested bubblegum: One.
Number of inmates allowed to have bubblegum: Zero. (Prison policy also bans bubblegum.)
One fact not listed on the site is the costs of inmates' final meals. Other costs are noted, however. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has calculated that the daily cost of keeping a prisoner on Death Row is $49.54. The cost of the drugs used in each lethal injection is $86.08.