The first federal execution under the United States Constitution took place 230 years ago in Portland, Maine. For his crime of murder on the high seas, Thomas Bird was hanged on June 25, 1790.

Ever since that day, hundreds of notorious criminals in many states all over the country have been put to death.

As society advances, death sentences are getting much less prevalent. It remains one of the most debated issues in politics, with a lot of people opposing the penalty. Currently, 28 states still enforce the death penalty.

Most juries are more willing to sentence defendants with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole than the death penalty, given the options. Inmates can spend decades on death row, during which some confessed to their crimes.

Like today’s death row prisoners during a few moments before execution, Bird had the chance to say some last words. He used the opportunity to proclaim his innocence, although it didn’t change his conviction.

Confessions and last-words before execution are often horrifying and scary, and sometimes downright nonsensical. Here are a few examples.


10 /10 Paul Ezra Rhoades

Convicted in three separate kidnappings and murders, Paul Ezra Rhoades was sentenced to death in Idaho in March 1988. He was ultimately executed by lethal injection on November 18, 2011.

His final words before execution sounded much like a confession. To Bert Michelbacher, whose wife Rhoades killed, he said he was sorry for taking part in her murder.

Rhoades even took the time to look at the executioner and said, “I forgive you, I do,” even though the executioner probably didn’t care.


9 /10 Christina Marie Riggs

At around 10 p.m. on November 4, 1997, a licensed nurse Christina Marie Riggs injected undiluted potassium chloride into her 5-year-old son Justin, who screamed in agony for the pain caused.

Riggs smothered the boy with a pillow. She then moved on to her 2-years-old daughter Shelby, only to commit just about the same crime.

Before her execution on May 2, 2000, Riggs said the following, “There is no way words can express how sorry I am for taking the lives of my babies. Now I can be with my babies, as I always intended.”

Ohio Department of Corrections

8 /10 Rocky Barton

In the morning on January 16, 2003, Rocky Barton and his wife Kimbirli Jo Barton were in a heated domestic dispute.

Barton shot her once in the shoulder and another in the back with a shotgun when the wife returned later that day to get her belongings before moving out.

For the murder of his wife at their home in Ohio, Rocky Barton was convicted and sentenced to death nine months later. He was executed on July 12, 2006, by lethal injection.

His last words were to his children, “I love you all, and I’m sorry for what I done. I’m sorry for killing your mom and what I done to you.”


7 /10 Carlos Granados

When Germantown police went to the apartment of Katherine Jiminez on September 4, 1998, as a follow-up to a call from her family, the officers saw her lying on the floor with multiple stab wounds but alive.

Her 3-year-old son Anthony had been stabbed in the chest to death. Also in the scene was Carlos Granados, holding a large knife covered in blood.

For his crime, Granados was executed by lethal injection on January 10, 2007. He used his final words to express his remorse to Jiminez and said he had never meant to hurt her.

Wikimedia Commons

6 /10 Peter Kürten - The Vampire Of Düsseldorfados

Also known as The Vampire of Düsseldorf, the German serial killer Peter Kürten was found guilty on nine counts of murder and seven counts of attempted murder, for which he was sentenced to death in April 1931. Kürten was executed by beheading at age 48 in July 1931.

The following were reportedly his last words: “Tell me, after my head is chopped off, will I still be able to hear, at least for a moment, the sound of my blood gushing from the stump of my neck? That would be the pleasure to end all pleasures.”

Wikimedia Commons

5 /10 Carl Panzram

While serving time at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, Panzram killed the prison laundry room foreman to receive a death sentence.

Panzram befriended officer Henry Philip Lesser on death row, who gave the former some writing materials.

Sometime before the execution, Panzram wrote a horrifying testimony. He said that he had murdered 21 people, sodomized more than 100 people, and committed a range of other crimes, including robberies, burglaries, arsons, and thefts.

He went on to say he was not in the least bit sorry for all those things. Panzram was hanged on September 5, 1930.


4 /10 John William Rook

For the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a 25-years-old nurse Ann Marie Roche in 1980, John William Rook was sentenced to death. Rook was executed by lethal injection on September 19, 1986, at the age of 27.

He confessed to his crimes not once or twice but three times to police that he had raped, beat, and slashed Roche.

He also drove his vehicle over her body and left her in a field. Before the execution, Rook exclaimed, “Freedom, freedom, at last, man. It’s been a good one.”

Mug Shot / Alamy Stock Photo

3 /10 John Wayne Gacy

Convicted to the murders of 33 young men, John Wayne Gacy was sentenced to death on March 13, 1980.

He spent 14 years on death row at Menard Correctional Center before execution day on May 10, 1994. Gacy was executed by lethal injection.

According to Gacy’s confession, he would often lure a victim to his home, dupe him into donning handcuffs under the pretense of showing the victim a magic trick, then rape and torture before killing the captive by either strangulation with a garrote or asphyxiation. Gacy showed no remorse. His last words were, “kiss my A**.”

Ronald Grant Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

2 /10 Aileen Wuornos

The infamous serial killer Aileen Wuornos confessed to the murder of six men. Also, in the confession, she claimed the victims attempted to assault her, so she shot them in self-defense sexually.

Wuornos was convicted of six of the seven murders and sentenced to death. She was executed by lethal injection on October 9, 2002, in Florida State Prison. Her last words were somewhat nonsensical.

Wuornos said, “I’d 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 mothership and all. I’ll be back.”


1 /10 Robert Alton Harris

Brothers Robert Alton Harris and Daniel Marcus Harris abducted two teenage boys on July 5, 1978. Robert shot them, and the brothers used the victims’ car to rob a bank. They were arrested less than an hour later.

Robert Harris was convicted of two counts of kidnapping and two counts of murder, for which he was sentenced to death.

Robert Harris was executed on April 21, 1992, in the gas chamber at San Quentin State Prison. In his last words, he said, “You can be a king or a street sweeper, but everyone dances with the grim reaper.”

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