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TDCJ Will End Final Feasts Before Executions

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Image courtesy flickr.com/BizarreRecords
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The Walls Unit at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, where the state conducts executions.

The long-standing tradition of allowing death row inmates one last special meal of their choosing before they enter the execution chamber ends today, said Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Livingston made the announcement just hours after receiving a letter from state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, in which the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee called for an immediate end to the practice he called an "extremely inappropriate" privilege.

"Effective immediately, no such accommodations will be made," Livingston said in an e-mailed statement. "They will receive the same meal served to other offenders on the unit."

Whitmire's letter to the TDCJ came in response to the last meal provided Wednesday night to Lawrence Brewer, a white supremacist who was convicted for his role in the 1998 dragging death of James Byrd Jr., a black man, in the East Texas town of Jasper. According to the Houston Chronicle, Brewer requested but did not eat a feast of a final meal: two chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, a cheese omelet, a large bowl of fried okra, three fajitas, a pint of Blue Bell ice cream, and a pound of barbecue with a half loaf of white bread.

"I have yielded to TDCJ judgment in the past, but now enough is enough," Whitmire wrote. If TDCJ doesn't end the practice on its own, Whitmire wrote that he plans to pass a law that will stop it. "Death row inmates before execution should be fed the same meal as any other inmate on the unit the day of the scheduled execution."

Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, said he is opposed to the death penalty, but he agreed with Whitmire's sentiment. "It is anomalous that you would do this for anybody in prison," Harrington said. "To me, it sort of reflects sort of a guilty idea, some guilt that the person is going to be executed."

Brandi Grissom joined the Tribune after four years at the El Paso Times, where she acted as a one-woman Capitol bureau during the last two legislative sessions. Grissom won the Associated Press Managing Editors First-Place Award in 2007 for using the Freedom of Information Act to report stories on a variety of government programs and entities, and the ACLU of Texas named her legislative reporter of the year in 2007 for her immigration reporting. She previously served as managing editor at The Daily Texan and has worked for the Alliance Times-Herald, the Taylor Daily Press, the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung and The Associated Press. A native of Alliance, Neb., she has a degree in history from the University of Texas.