In May 2007, Philip Workman, soon to be executed by the state of Tennessee for murdering a police officer, was asked what he wanted for his final meal. Workman, who claimed he had not committed the murder, refused to eat anything. Deliver a pizza to a homeless person instead, he said.
What if death row inmates’ acceptance or refusal of a last meal reveals their actual guilt or innocence in the crime they’ve been accused of committing? That’s a correlation Kevin M. Kniffin, a research associate at Cornell University’s Lab for Experimental Economics and Decision Research, has begun to explore in a study recently published in Law.
The study looked at the cases of 247 people who were sentenced to death in the United States between 2002 and 2006. By tallying each defendant’s acceptance or rejection of a last meal, the amount of calories consumed if a meal was accepted, and the defendant’s profession of innocence or guilt, Kniffin found that people who denied guilt were almost three times as likely to decline a last meal as those who admitted guilt. Among everyone, those who admitted guilt requested meals of 34 percent more calories.
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