real life

How five prisoners on death row spent their last day.

Your life must be pooled around your feet like heavy water as you put one foot in front of the other, all the way to the execution chamber.

How many moments would you have spent thinking about your last meal, or the words you will say? You’ve likely had years to contemplate those final moments and I wonder if you know yourself: Will you fall apart? Or will you stay calm until the very end?

Surely, there is no death so slow and regimented than a death on death row. The ordeal lasts years, usually, through courts cases and appeals and small glints of hope before, finally, there is no hope at all.

There is a last meal, if you can stomach it.

There is a final visit with family, maybe a priest.

There is the execution chamber itself. Usually with a witness box. You can choose who will be present to watch you die.

It’s a dichotomy like no other. Death row inmates are, for the most part, physically healthy. There is no tumour, or multiplying cells. There’s no degenerative disease, or abnormal blood work. The only thing that’s terminal: their guilt.

They approach death more conscious than most. They’ve had time to think about it, to wonder what it will feel like. They’ve had time to prepare and choose the way they will go.

Here are the final moments of some of the world’s most notorious criminals.

William Sallie

On December 6 last year, William Sallie, 50, was executed in the state of Georgia for the 1990 murder of his father-in-law John Moore.


He had gone on a rampage. His marriage had broken down, he was losing custody of his son, Ryan, who was two, and his ex-wife had gone to live with her parents.

Sallie shot his father-in-law John Moore six times, killing him. He shot is mother-in-law, Linda Moore, four times (she lived) and he kidnapped his wife Robin and her 17-year-old sister April.

He took the two women to a rural property and raped them. Throughout all this, Sallie’s two year old son was left in the house with the bleeding bodies of John and Linda Moore.

Last December, for his last meal, Sallie asked for a medium pizza with pepperoni, some chicken wings with buffalo sauce and a large soft drink. He ate in his cell before being transported to the execution chamber his final words were: “I just want to say I’m very, very sorry for my crimes. I really am sorry,” he said, adding that he had prayed for forgiveness many times.

“I’m just very sorry for everything.”

Kelly Gissendaner

Kelly Gissendaner was executed on September 30, 2015 in Georgia. She was the first woman to be executed in the state in 70 years.

In 1997, she manipulated her lover Gregory Bruce Owen into killing her husband, Douglas Gissendaner. She helped Owen destroy the evidence and hide the body. A year later and she was sentenced to death, after Owen testified against her in a plea agreement – he was sentenced to life in prison.

The 47-year-old was sobbing and crying when she entered the execution chamber after years of unsuccessful appeals, according to media witness Jeff Hullinger, who spoke to CNN.


She made a statement: “I love you sally and I love you Susan. You let my kids know I went out singing Amazing Grace. And tell the Gissendaner family I am so sorry. That amazing man lost his life because of me. And if I could take it back, if this could change it, I would have done it a long time ago. But it’s not and I just hope they find peace. And I hope they find some happiness. God bless you.”

Gissendaner died singing, after eating a meal of two Burger King Whoppers with fries, popcorn, cornbread, salad with Paul Newman buttermilk dressing, lemonade, and cherry vanilla ice cream. An ambitious last meal, to say the least.

Lois Nadean Smith

Lois Nadean Smith was killed by the state of Oklahoma in 2001. Her crime was horrific. She had been convicted of first-degree murder for the 1982 killing of her son’s ex-girlfriend, Cindy Baillee. She stabbed the 21-year-old in the throat and shot her nine times before jumping up and down on her neck.

Nearly 20 years later, in 2001, a 61-year-old Smith was executed by lethal injection. Her last meal consisted of barbecue ribs, onion rings, strawberry banana cake and cherry limeade.

Her last breaths were used to beg for forgiveness: “To the families, I want to say I’m sorry for the pain and loss I’ve caused you,” Smith said. “I ask that you forgive me. You must forgive to be forgiven.”

Aileen Wuornos

Image: Facebook.

She is one of the best known female serial killers. Between December 1989 and September 1990, Aileen Wuornos killed seven men in Florida. She shot them at point-blank range, later claiming all her victims had either raped or attempted to rape her. At the time, Wuornos worked as a prostitute. The murders, she said, were self-defence.


The courts weren’t convinced and, on October 9, 2001, the 46-year-old was executed by lethal injection. She requested no food for her last meal - just black coffee - and it was her last words that were most chilling:

“I'd just like to say I'm sailing with the rock, and I'll be back,” she told the witnesses to the execution. “Like Independence Day with Jesus on June 6. Like the movie, big mother ship and all. I'll be back.”

Adam Ward

Adam Ward was 33 when he was executed in Texas on March 22 last year. He had been convicted and sentenced to death for killing city worker Michael Walker in 2007, after the pair got into an argument about rubbish piling up outside Ward’s Dallas home.

Though the courts recognised Ward was mentally unstable, the execution still went ahead.

His might be the most heartbreaking final moments. He continued to defended himself as they injected the poison, pleading his case saying “it’s wrong what’s happening... I never intended to do anything."

Moments before he stopped breathing, he fought to remember: “I know there’s something else I need to say,” he told those watching. “But I don’t know what it is.”

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