Death Row Last Words: from jokes to baddass remarks, check out some amazing final comments from people who were about to be executed.
“Let’s do it!” (The Inspiration for Nike’s Famous Slogan)
In the winter of 1976, the country was all abuzz about Gary Gilmore, a convicted Utah murderer who was demanding his own death. Gary, a career criminal, had killed two people in two days during the summer of ’76. One was a gas station attendant and the other was a motel manager. The jury convicted Gary and unanimously recommended the death penalty. At that time, Utah had two options for execution, hanging and firing squad. Gary chose to be shot. He became the first person to be executed after the U.S. reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
When the time finally came for Gary to die before the firing squad, he was brought to an old cannery behind the prison and strapped to a chair. It was there where Gary issued his famous last words, “Let’s do it!” Immediately after his death, Gary’s corneas were donated to awaiting recipients, per his request.
Gary became somewhat of a cultural icon. The Police song Bring on the Night was inspired by Gary’s possible thoughts on the night before his death. In his performance in the film The Postman Always Rings Twice, Jack Nicholson was inspired by Gary. He has been mentioned in Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld, and Roseanne. Most notably, famed advertising executive Dan Wieden credits Gary’s parting words as the inspiration for Nike’s tagline, “Just Do It.”
“French Fries.” (Spoken by Mr. French Before Being Electrocuted)
James D. French, who was executed on August 10, 1966, was an American criminal who was the last person to be executed under Oklahoma’s death penalty laws prior to Furman v. Georgia. He was the only prisoner executed in the United States that year. Already in prison for life, but allegedly afraid to commit suicide, French murdered his cellmate, apparently to compel the state to execute him.
French has been credited with these famous last words before his death by electric chair: “How’s this for a headline? ‘French Fries.'”
This was the last pre-Furman execution by electric chair before John Spenkelink was electrocuted in 1979 in Florida.
“Forgive me sir, I meant not to do it.” (Spoken by Marie Antoinette to Her Executioner After She Stepped on His Foot)
When Marie Antoinette died under the heavy blow of the guillotine on Oct. 16, 1793, it was a decidedly unglamorous affair. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a celebration; many French revolutionaries were ecstatic to bid the extravagant queen adieu forever. Her hair was cut off and she was driven through Paris in an open cart while wearing a plain white dress. After the blade came down, the executioner brandished Marie Antoinette’s head in a triumphant wave so that the entire crowd could see it.
However, it was a disappointment for the thousands of people who were gathered to watch the scene. They’d wanted to see the 38-year-old woman quake in fear and cower penitently. A well-known 18th-century journalist and revolutionary, Jacques Hébert, wrote in the newspaper Le Père Duchesne that she was “bold and impudent to the very end.” It is claimed that she maintained her composure to the very end.
“Soldiers, Fire!” (Spoken by Michael Ney After Wishing to Command His Own Firing Squad)
One of the most popular of Napoleon’s marshals was undoubtedly Michel Ney, who was affectionately known to his troops as “le Rougeaud” (“ginger”) due to the color of his hair. So, how could this man, who was later known as the “the Bravest of the Brave,” be executed in a Paris public park?
Following the defeat at Waterloo, Ney was hunted down and arrested. After being taken into custody, he was tried for treason and found guilty. He was sentenced to be executed by firing squad near the Luxembourg Garden on December 7, 1815. When he was offered one last wish, Ney decided on one that was very unusual and kick ass. He asked to command his own firing squad.
During his execution, Ney refused to wear a blindfold and insisted upon giving the order to fire himself. His final words were reportedly delivered as follows:
“Soldiers, when I give the command to fire, fire straight at my heart. Wait for the order. It will be my last to you. I protest against my condemnation. I have fought a hundred battles for France, and not one against her… Soldiers Fire!”
“Where’s my stunt double when you need one?” (Spoken by Vincent Gutierrez Before Being Executed by Lethal Injection)
Vincent Gutierrez, 28, was executed by lethal injection on March 28, 2007 in Huntsville, Texas for the carjacking murder of a 40-year-old man.
Gutierrez, who was believed to have suffered from bipolar disorder, said good bye with a pinch of humor. His last words were,
I do, I would like to tell everybody that I’m sorry about the situation that happened. My bad – everybody is here because of what happened. I’d like to thank everybody that’s been here through the years. The little kids overseas – they really changed me. Sister Doris, mom, brothers, sister, dad; I love ya’ll. My brother… where’s my stunt double when you need one? My Lord is my life and savior, nothing shall I fear.
Gutierrez was the 1068th murderer executed in the U.S. since 1976.
“Well, gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel.” (Spoken by G. Appel Before Being Executed by Electric Chair)
Another death row inmate with a sense of humor chose to use a pun as his final words. Convicted murderer George Appel’s final words before being executed in the electric chair in New York in 1928 were, “Well, gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel.”
“I did not get my Spaghetti-O’s, I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this.” (An Inmate Complaining about His Last Meal)
Prisoners on America’s death row are traditionally allowed anything they would like to eat for their last meal before they are executed. One inmate took this right very seriously.
Thomas J. Grasso was executed in 1995 for using Christmas tree lights to strangle an 85-year-old woman. His bizarre last meal request was for two dozen steamed mussels, two dozen steamed clams (flavored by a wedge of lemon), a double cheeseburger from Burger King, a half-dozen barbecued spare ribs, two strawberry milkshakes, one-half of a pumpkin pie with whipped cream, diced strawberries, and a 16-ounce can of SpaghettiOs with meatballs, served at room temperature.
Unfortunately for him, the length or complexity of his list seemed to confuse kitchen staff who made one crucial mistake. Grasso’s last words were, “I did not get my SpaghettiOs, I got spaghetti. I want the press to know this.
“I think that governor’s phone is broke. He hadn’t called yet.” (A Convicted Murderer Whose Execution had been Postponed Three Times)
David Matthews, an Oklahoma death row inmate, was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Otis Earl Short, who was shot during a robbery at his home.
Shortly before the lethal drugs began flowing, Matthews looked at his family members and said with a smile, “I think that governor’s phone is broke. He hadn’t called yet.”
His execution had been postponed three times. Former Gov. Brad Henry twice granted stays to give defense attorneys time to investigate Matthews’ claims of innocence. A third stay was granted after defense attorneys objected to plans to substitute a drug in his lethal injection.
“I’d rather be fishing.” (Spoken by Jimmy Glass Before Being Put to Death)
Jimmy L. Glass was executed on June 12, 1987. Glass was convicted of shooting Newton and Erline Brown to death while burglarizing their Dixie Inn home on Christmas Day in 1982. Glass and Jimmy Wingo (who also got the chair) had escaped from the Webster Parish Jail the day before.
Glass’s last words were, “I’d rather be fishing.” Of course he would.
He died when the electric chair was just one vote short of being declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
“Hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could hang a dozen men while you’re screwing around!” (Spoken by Carl Panzram, a Famous Serial Killer in the 30’s)
Carl Panzram was an American serial killer, rapist, arsonist, and burglar who was hanged on September 5, 1930. He is known for his confession to his only friend, prison guard Henry Lesser. In graphic detail, Panzram confessed to 22 murders, and to having sodomized over 1,000 males, even adding, “For all these things I am not in the least bit sorry.”
Panzram was sentenced to death. He refused to appeal, even threatening to kill members of human rights groups who attempted to appeal on his behalf.
When they put the noose around his neck, he allegedly spat in his executioner’s face and declared, “I wish the entire human race had one neck, and I had my hands around it!” When asked by the executioner if he had any last words, Panzram barked, “Yes, hurry it up, you Hoosier bastard! I could hang a dozen men while you’re screwing around!”