Last meals and the appetite of the guilty

By Toby Manhire In The Internaut

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An image from Henry Hargreaves’ exhibition.

The proof may not quite be in the pudding, but there is nevertheless something to be gleaned from the last meal chosen by prisoners on death row.

A new study finds that “those who denied guilt were 2.7 times more likely to decline a last meal than those who admitted guilt”, reports Paul Bisceglio in the science magazine Pacific Standard.

“Those who had admitted guilt requested 34% more calories of food and were more likely to request brand name, comfort-food items.”

In Law, the journal that carries the study, Kevin Kniffin of Cornell University says the results, based on 247 cases in the US, ring true.

“To the extent that agreement to accept the traditional invitation of a last meal implies some consent to the execution process, it is sensible that people who deny guilt will tend to deny the invitation to a last meal,” he writes.

“People who are facing an execution for which they claim innocence appear to lack an appetite when compared with the rest of the sample whereas people who have accepted guilt appear relatively more ‘comfortable.’”

The information is a rare insight, he adds. Last meals are “one of the few channels of communication that have traditionally existed for people facing execution”.

The evocative power of the death row last meal is captured in a new exhibition by the New York based New Zealand photographer Henry Hargreaves, which is bound for the Venice Biennale. More on that, and a slide show, here.

More by Toby Manhire

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