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3 Laws 1 (2014)

handle is hein.journals/laws3 and id is 1 raw text is: 



Laws 2014, 3, 1-11; doi:10.3390/laws3010001


                                                                                 laws
                                                                            ISSN  2075-471X
                                                                 www.mdpi.com/journal/laws/
Essay

Death Row Confessions and the Last Meal Test of Innocence

Kevin M.  Kniffin * and Brian Wansink

Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University, Warren Hall, Ithaca,
NY  14853, USA; E-Mail: bcw28@comell.edu

*  Author to whom correspondence should be addressed; E-Mail: kmk276@cornell.edu;
   Tel.: +1-607-254-4960.

Received: 28 October 2013; in revised form: 23 November 2013 lAccepted: 20 December 2013/
Published: 30 December 2013



     Abstract: Post hoc analyses of Rector v. Arkansas have regularly highlighted that the
     defendant requested that part of his last meal be saved so that he could it eat later. While
     the observation is typically raised as part of arguments that Rector was incompetent and
     unfit for execution, the more basic fact is that commentators have drawn important
     inferences about Rector's mental state from how he treated his last meal. In this essay, we
     draw  upon multiple disciplines in order to apply the same inferential logic to a much
     broader sample and explore the question of whether traditionally customized last meals
     might offer signals of defendants' guilt or innocence. To investigate this, the content of
     last-meal requests and last words reported for people executed in the United States during a
     recent five-year period were examined. Consistent with the idea that declination of the last
     meal is equivalent to a signal of (self-perceived) innocence, those who denied guilt were
     2.7 times as likely to decline a last meal than people who admitted guilt (29% versus 8%).
     Consistent with the complementary theory that people who admit guilt are relatively more
     at peace with their sentence, these individuals requested 34% more calories of food than
     the rest of the sample (2786 versus 2085 calories). A third finding is that those who denied
     guilt also tended to eat significantly fewer brand-name food items. Previous discussions of
     last meals have often lacked quantitative measurements; however, this systematic analysis
     shows  that last meal requests offer windows  into self-perceived or self-proclaimed
     innocence. Knowing one's last meal request and one's last words can provide valuable new
     variables for retrospectively assessing the processes that led to past executions.

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