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Saturday, December 13, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Last-meal request page taken down from Texas corrections Web site

The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS — In the end, it came down to a matter of taste.

After years of posting the last-meal requests of death-row inmates for public perusal, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has deleted that information from its Web site (www.tdcj.state.tx.us).

The elimination of the popular page was part of a redesign to be launched this week, department spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said, but the decision to remove it also was partly in response to objections.

"We had gotten some complaints from people who thought it was in poor taste," Lyons said.

The decision by the department's "executive administration" makes life difficult for Lyons, who fields media requests, because questions about prisoners' last-meal requests are common. "The reason we had it on the Web site to begin with was because that was the No. 1 inquiry from the public," she said. "So, really, we can't win."

The questions still will be answered, because the information is a matter of public record, Lyons said. It just won't be as readily available.

The public is so fascinated by the topic that books have been written on the subject. In fact, a former Texas inmate who served time for sexual assault and kidnapping in the 1990s prepared many inmates' last meals while working at a Huntsville unit and is now writing a cookbook, Lyons said.

"The inmates who prepare the last meals really do their best, because they know the importance of it," she said. "They know this is the last meal this person is ever going to eat and they do keep that in mind, and try very hard to match the request as closely as possible."

Cheeseburgers are the most-requested last meal, followed closely by fried chicken and breakfast foods such as eggs and sausage. Occasionally, a prisoner will ask for something unusual, such as a jar of pickles or a bag of Jolly Rancher candy.

The selections are supposed to be limited to typical kitchen supplies, Lyons said, but if an inmate requests a bag of candy not on hand, Lyons said, some "good-hearted prison employee" may provide it.

Other states, such as California and Arizona, still post information on last meals.

"We've never had any complaints," said Terry Thornton of the California Department of Corrections. "Actually, there are some people who wonder why this state even gives an inmate a last meal. I've heard complaints about that — not the fact that we post it on our Web site."

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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