Five final statements from

Last Words of the Executed

by Robert K. Elder

The Noose

I have something to say, but not at this time.

grover cleveland redding, convicted of murder, Illinois. Executed June 24, 1921

Redding had claimed that he was the prince of Abyssinia and was just trying to bring the people of his race back to their homeland. During a riot that was started by Redding and his followers, two were shot to death. Redding had built up a following with his antigovernment and religiously motivated teachings.

The Firing Squad

I give you my word. I intend to die like a man, looking my executioners right in the eye.

After the initial volley of bullets failed to kill him:
Oh my God! Oh my God! They have missed!

wallace wilkerson, convicted of murder, Utah. Executed May 16, 1879

Wilkerson, age forty-five, refused the traditional blindfold and restraints during his execution for killing a man over a disputed card game. A cigar remained in his hand during his final moments. Unfortunately for Wilkerson, the bullets missed his vital organs, and he struggled for breath for fifteen to twenty-seven minutes, depending on the account, before dying. A reporter from the Ogden Junction newspaper criticized the execution, writing: “The French guillotine never fails.”

The Electric Chair

In his cell:
Yes, sir. I wish to make the following statements prior to my death. First, to the family of Roger Tackett, I send to you my remorse for the death of your loved one from the bottom of my heart. I did not kill Roger Tackett, and I remorse deeply for his death. To my supporters I send my—all my deepest respect. Thank you. It was—it has been due to your effort that I have received the degree of justice in my case. To the world, I suggest that people need to reach out more and help the needy and the homeless. To my family and children, I send you all my love, and I want you to know that I love you very much. And do not be bitter. Work hard, be honest in all life, and you will be successful in America. Van Roosevelt Solomon.

A moment later:
This is Van Solomon again, and I’d like to say to America: how long will America limp between two opinions? How can you counsel someone and don’t even keep your own counsel about killing people. Thank you.

In the death chamber:
Yes, I’d like to say I’d like to give my blessing to all the people that seeked to save my life, and I’d like to curse everyone that seeked to take my life. Farewell.

van roosevelt solomon, convicted of murder, Georgia. Executed February 20, 1985

A former Baptist assistant pastor, Solomon sat in the electric chair for the murder of Roger Tackett, a Georgetown University honors graduate and convenience store manager. Outside the prison, the Associated Press reported, fifty opponents and eight proponents of the death penalty stood in the rain. One held a sign reading “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Another placard read “Let me pull the switch.”

Newspapers reported Solomon’s last words as “I would like to give my blessings to all the people who tried to save my life.” A longer recording of his final statements was part of a collection of subpoenaed Georgia execution tapes, later made into the audio documentary The Execution Tapes.

The Gas Chamber

I’m innocent! I’m innocent! I’m innocent!

As guards dragged him into the gas chamber:
Don’t let me go like this, God!

While being strapped into the chair:
I did wrong but I didn’t kill anybody!

To witnesses and reporters:
You’re the ones that put me here. God, you’re a dirty son of a bitch because I’m innocent!

robert otis pierce, convicted of murder, California. Executed April 6, 1956

With an accomplice Smith Edward Jordan, Pierce killed an Oakland cabdriver in a seven-dollar robbery turned murder. The man, Charles Rose, died after being struck several times by the butt of Pierce’s gun.

After his conviction, Pierce spent his time in prison writing “All of God’s Children Got Rhythm,” but the manuscript was confiscated by prison officials and was lost.

The previous day, Pierce vowed to put on a show for the other death row inmates, saying, “It will take two guys to get me in that chair, ’cause I’m going to go out fighting, kicking and screaming.”

On his execution day, Pierce slashed his throat with a broken shard of mirror. After wrapping his neck with a prison shirt, he fought guards all the way to the chamber. It took the combined strength of four guards to strap him into the chair, where he continued to struggle and curse.

Witnesses looked on in horror as he bled, wept, and cursed in the gas chamber.

Lethal Injection

I’d just like to say I’m sailing with the Rock and I’ll be back like ‘Independence Day’ with Jesus, June 6, like the movie, big mother ship and all. I’ll be back.

aileen wuornos, convicted of murder, Florida. Executed October 9, 2002

Wuornos was labeled a serial killer for murdering seven men in less than twelve months. The life of Wuornos, from her abusive childhood to her life as a teenage prostitute, became the focus of the 2003 film Monster and two documentaries by Nick Broomfield. On the day of her execution, she told Broomfield that the police framed her and used sonic waves to control her. State psychiatrists decided that she was mentally competent for execution. Charlize Theron won an Oscar for her portrayal of Wuornos in Monster.

Copyright notice: Excerpts from Last Words of the Executed by Robert K. Elder, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2010 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press. (Footnotes and other references included in the book may have been removed from this online version of the text.)

Robert K. Elder
Last Words of the Executed
©2010, 340 pages
Cloth $22.50 ISBN: 9780226202686
Also available as an e-book

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