Death Row Inmates' Last Words Are Often Surprising

They're frequently positive, says a new study
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 7, 2016 3:00 PM CST
Death Row Inmates' Last Words Often Positive
The death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.   (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)

What would you say if you were about to be executed? There's a good chance your last words would be on the positive side. At least that was the case for 407 death row inmates executed between 1982 and 2015 in Texas, according to a new study published in Frontiers in Psychology. German researchers compared the inmates' final statements to a database of written and spoken content from more than 23,000 people, along with samples from students told to think about their own deaths and real suicide notes. The result: "The inmates’ last words contained a significantly higher proportion of positive words," New York reports. And that, according to the study authors, reflects "the emotional processes of coping with mortality" by "maintaining self-esteem and acquiring meaning in life."

The findings fall within the framework of "Terror Management Theory," which claims that people use a "wide range of cognitive and behavioral efforts" to reduce anxiety in the face of impending death. For instance, one of the final statements used in the study read in part: “Even though I lay on this gurney, seconds away from my death, I am at total peace. May the Lord Jesus Christ be with me. ... I am still a proud American, Texas loud, Texas proud." Others turned to their families, who may or may not have been present at executions. "I love my family," said one, per Yahoo. "It’s my hour. It’s my hour. I love you. Stay strong." Another said he hoped his death would bring "closure or some type of peace" to family members, adding, "This has been a long journey, one of enlightenment. It’s not the end, it’s only the beginning." (A witness tries to explain what it's like to watch an execution.)

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