Thursday, May 05, 2011

Last Meal

Roger Ray Riley, more familiarly known by his pseudonym, Rated-R, was a director and star of gonzo-style pornographic Web content. He was executed in Florida in 2007 for the double homicide of his girlfriend, Jean-Louise Bishop(28), and their live-in friend, Jessica Wampling(31).

From the time of his arrest until his execution by electric chair on April 29, 2007, Riley claimed that he was innocent. "I'm guilty of more things than most people," he was quoted as saying minutes before his conviction, "but I'm no murderer."

Twelve jury members believed differently, and so it was that, after swift deliberation, he was found guilty of first-degree murder and transferred to Florida State Prison to await execution. He never appealed.

He did, however, have quite a unique request for his last meal, and that's what has fascinated me. I'm uninterested in whether Riley was guilty or not. The machinations of men and justice are so myriad, so tangled, that without clairvoyance it's all just guesswork, and one can drive himself mad considering it for too long. I'm more interested in his last-meal request. Who knows, perhaps there's something in that, too, which might shed light on the guilt or innocence of a dead convict.

8500 grams of cherry tomatoes, bought locally as per state law. Total calories: 2000.

When initially denied his request because it was deemed extravagant, Riley wrote back, "Gentlemen, you think me a murderer, and the law has declared me as such. I will not try to convince you otherwise, for it would be folly. But if I may appeal my case in the matter of my final meal, I would beg of you to hear me out. I love steak, lobster, ice cream -- but their deliciousness is fleeting. I am to die soon, and quickly, so I would very much appreciate you granting me one humble wish. I want to eat as my "special" meal 500 cherry tomatoes on the day before I die. I realize that such an amount makes up the FDA's total daily caloric intake and doesn't constitute a meal, but I hope that in this case a blind eye can be turned. I might not get a chance to eat for a long time afterwards."

I was the guard on duty the evening two hulking grocery bags full of ripe cherry tomatoes were brought into Rated-R's Death Watch cell. "Five-hundred," he said enthusiastically as he popped a fat one into his mouth. "Four ninety-nine," he said, smiling. By the time he had consumed twenty, his face was ashen. He ate five or six more before lying down on his bunk and falling asleep. Yet throughout the night I could hear him counting down numbers in his sleep.

When the governor asked him if he had any last words, his response was, "Zero."

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