This week, Dylann Roof was sentenced to death by a South Carolina jury for fatally shooting nine black church members during a Bible study session in 2015. Roof is the first person in American history ordered to be executed for a federal hate crime.
While the number of death sentences has dropped in the last 20 years, it’s still legal in 31 US states. In most states and various countries where the death penalty is legal, it’s customary to give sentenced prisoners a special last meal at their request. Restrictions do apply — for example, in Florida the final meal can only cost up to $40, and it must be able to be prepared locally.
Food photographer Henry Hargreaves has never agreed with the practice of the death penalty, so when he heard in 2011 that Texas was abolishing the special last-meal request for death-row inmates, he became fascinated by the tradition.
“I dug into [researching] it … and found a public record [of the meals]. For the first time, these people became humanized,” he told Business Insider. His series “No Seconds” and “A Year of Killing” explore the inmates’ requested last meals through staged photographs.
“You don’t know if they’re being served on china plates, or plastic, or eating on their laps, or at a wooden table, so I tried to explore all these variations,” he said.
Although Hargreaves has his own opinions on the death penalty, he didn’t want to preach his beliefs with the work. “All I wanted was to make people have the conversation and be aware of it,” he said. “That’s the power of art; it [puts] a mirror up to the subject, and [viewers] can have a conversation amongst themselves and come to their own conclusions.”
John Wayne Gacy, 52 years old, Illinois -- rape and 33 counts of murder, death by lethal injection in 1994
Stephen Anderson, 49 years old, California -- burglary and assault, escaped prison, seven counts of murder, death by lethal injection in 2002
Ted Bundy, 43 years old, Florida -- rape, necrophilia, prison escape, 35+ counts of murder, death by electric chair in 1989
Oscar Ray Bolin Jr., 53 years old, Florida -- three counts of murder, death by lethal injection in 2016
Ángel Nieves Díaz, 55 years old, Florida -- murder, kidnapping, robbery, death by lethal injection in 2006
Ronnie Lee Gardner, 49 years old, Utah -- burglary, robbery, two counts of murder, death by firing squad in 2010
Allen Lee 'Tiny' Davis, 54 years old, Florida -- robbery and three counts of murder, death by electric chair in 1999
Teresa Lewis, 41 years old, Virginia -- murder, conspiracy, and robbery, death by lethal injection in 2010
Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, 36 and 39 years old, Massachusetts -- two counts of murder, death by electric chair in 1927
In 1977, the governor of Massachusetts issued a statement saying that Sacco and Vanzetti had been unfairly tried and convicted. The case is still open.
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