The Big Questions

Life, death and free will.

The Last Words of Death Row Inmates

Last words of death row inmates

Moments prior to being executed, death row inmates are given the chance to say their last words. What do they choose to talk about?

Death row inmates' last statements have been content analyzed by researchers. In one study, the researcher (me) identified themes in these last statements.

A very large percent (95+) of death row inmates expressed some sort of love or appreciation for someone else. This was often for a family member or a close friend, or a chaplain. A large percentage (around 70%) expressed the desire to be forgiven by the murder victims' family. Interestingly, in some cases, they also stated that they had forgiven the murder victims' family and/or the government for mistreating them (that takes some stones, eh?). A vast majority also expressed religious belief, and in particular, that they believe they will going to a better, happier place.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Other common themes were activism, claims of innocence, and for a small minority, silence.

In terms of activism, it was not uncommon for death row inmates to urge people to contribute to a cause, such as helping children, or keeping people away from drugs and alcohol, or even environmental issues.

A good percent of death row inmates also claimed innonence to the crime they were convicted of. Usually, this involved admitting they were part of the crime, but just not to the extent they were charged (e.g., the getaway driver and not the shooter). This of course does not mean, per say, that they were innocent, just that they claimed they were.

When reading these last statements, I was expecting to see evidence of fear and panic. After all, not only are these people dying, but they are being executed well before (I would assume in most cases) they would want to die. I was struck that there was very little evidence of this in these statements (like maybe 1 or 2 out of hundreds).

It is an interesting question for future researchers to explore, but perhaps, these people are not fearful or scared (in words) because they have had so much time to come to terms with their death. Or perhaps, it is a release to an extent after living with such a conviction and in such (arguably) poor conditions. Or perhaps, because the majority of these people merely believed (at least they said it) that they were moving onto a better place, perhaps this is why. Or, perhaps it is all of these things.

I in no way hope this blog or research offends anyone. I do not wish to paint death row inmates in a positive light, but rather, to explore what this group of people finds most worthy of expression prior to their death. I am, after all, a researcher in the psychology of death and dying.

In sum, to my surprise, most death row inmates did not seem to fear death, judging by their last statements. And, they most often chose to express religion/spirituality, love/appreciation, activism, forgiveness, claims of innocence and for a small portion, silence.

 

p.s. all of these statements are available on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice website. If you google "death row last statements Texas" it takes you to the screen. Also, this was done 5 years ago, so I have no idea what has been said in these statements since then.

Nathan Heflick completed his Ph.D. in social psychology at The University of South Florida.

more...

Subscribe to The Big Questions

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.