The Texas Department of Criminal Justice will no longer share the last written words of death row inmates after criticism from a Houston lawmaker.
Democratic state Sen. John Whitmire railed against the agency Monday for allowing department spokesman Jeremy Desel to read the last words of John William "Bill" King to the media following his execution last week. King was one of three people convicted in the racist killing of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper in 1998. Byrd's murder spurred federal and state efforts to pass hate crimes legislation.
King, an avowed white supremacist, declined to make a final verbal statement before his execution, but said in a written statement, "Capital Punishment: Them without the capital get the punishment."
In a letter to TDCJ, Whitmire, who chairs the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, said the move shocked him.
"I believe this action was totally improper and should never be repeated," he wrote. "If a death row inmate has something to say to the public or victims, let him or her say it while they are strapped to the gurney."
Whitman called the accommodation "disrespectful" to Byrd's family, and noted that it was the second time the agency had granted an unusual request to one of his killers. TDCJ granted Lawrence Brewer an exorbitant last meal before his death in 2011, a decision that also drew criticism from Whitmire and later led to a cessation of that policy.
In a letter to Whitmire on Tuesday, the agency said it will share only the spoken last words of death row inmates, which the agency publishes with the confirmation of an inmate's death.
"The agency has traditionally offered the condemned the option of verbally speaking their last words while in the chamber or writing them out prior to the execution and in turn sharing it with the media," Executive Director Bryan Collier wrote. "Moving forward, should the offender choose to write a statement, it will be inventoried with their belongings and given to their pre-determined designee after their execution. The agency will only relay to the public the last verbal statement given in the execution chamber."
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