What Last Meals Can Tell Us About Guilt and Innocence
Kniffin, K., & Wansink, B. (2014). Death row confessions and the last meal test of innocence. Laws, 1–11. doi: 10.3390/laws3010001
Can last meals reveal more about individuals on death row than their taste preference? Some have argued that there is significance embedded in death row last meal decisions. Famously, Ricky Ray Rector asked to save his untouched pecan pie for after his execution. This request sparked significant discussion about Rector’s competency – on the basis of his food request. Similarly, in a documentary film about last suppers, artists Bigert and Bergstrom have claimed a connection between whether or not an individual chooses to have a last meal and his or her guilt. In each case, there is an assertion that last meals are relevant to the legitimacy of an execution. It is these signals that Cornell University researcher Kevin Kniffin examined in this self-funded study. In particular, he studied whether an individual who has accepted guilt—by apologizing or confessing—is more likely to indulge in a last meal. He also looked at how their meals differ from those who maintain that they are innocent.
Along with co-author Brian Wansink, Professor and Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, Kniffin hypothesized that those who perceived themselves as innocent would request fewer calories or decline to receive a last meal altogether. After analyzing the last meals of 247 people who were executed in the United States between 2002 and 2006, Kniffin found the hypothesis to be accurate. Those who denied guilt were 2.7 times more likely to decline a last meal than those who admitted guilt. Furthermore, those who were admittedly guilty requested 34% more calories of food and were more likely to request brand name, comfort-food items.
Social circumstance often gives meals meaning, so it is logical that the last meals of those on death row may signify something beyond taste preference. While there are many factors that could contribute to last meal selection, this study is the first to provide evidence of a link between food selection and self-perceived guilt or innocence. These findings may be useful to the legal community in further assessing the innocence and perceived innocence of those who have received the death penalty.
Article summary by: Katherine Baildon
Death Row Nutrition: Curious Conclusions of Last Meals – Appetite – 2012
It’s Not Just Lunch: Extra-Pair Commensality Can Trigger Sexual Jealousy – PLOS ONE – 2012
The Largest Last Supper: Depictions of Portion Size Increased Over the Millennium – International Journal of Obeisty – 2010
College cafeteria snack food purchases become less healthy with each passing week of the semester– Public Health Nutrition – 2013
Content Editor: Sandra Cuellar-Healey
and Katherine Baildon
Design, Maintenance: Nadia A. Streletskaya