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Dying with Laughter: The Tales of Death-Row Inmates who Died with a Joke Voices 

Dying with Laughter: The Tales of Death-Row Inmates who Died with a Joke

Jokes are a great way to entertain people around you. There are many times and places to crack one. These often include birthday parties, family gatherings, ice breakers, and executions. Yes, you read correctly. Some death-row inmates have used their last minute of breath to deliver a joke as their last words. This article will cover some executed inmates who did exactly that. 


James D. French


James Donald French was a double-murderer and the last person to be executed in Oklahoma before the death penalty was briefly abolished in 1972. However, James French is better remembered for what he said at his execution. French was initially serving a life sentence for killing a hitchhiker in 1958. French requested, on many occasions, to be executed by the electric chair. His requests went unheard and ignored. What did he do instead? He killed his cellmate, Eddie Lee Shelton, to force the state to grant him the death penalty. The judge of his second trial obliged, and on August 10, 1966, James French went to the chair. French’s last words were reported to be a conversation between him and the reporters covering his death: 


  If I were covering my execution, do you know what I’d say in the newspaper headline? (…) French fries. See ya. 


Yes, James French made a pun about his name as his last statement. I want to believe he asked for the death penalty – and by none other than the electric chair – just to make that pun, but this article isn’t about conspiracy theories, so it’s best just to move on to the next one. 


George Appel


Similarly, convicted murderer George Appel also went with a pun as his last statement… well, sort of. George Appel was executed in 1928 for mortally wounding Lieutenant Charles Kemmer of the NYPD in a botched robbery in the middle of a Brooklyn restaurant. On August 9th, 2018, after being strapped to the electric chair, his last words were reported to be: “Well, gentlemen, you’re about to see a baked Appel“.


 It appears that the pun was too good to be true since it was the reporters who made the joke. Apparently, Appel was using his last breath to profess his innocence, despite confessing to the murder in jail. I guess you can call this a shocking story. 


Patrick Byran Knight


“Joke not funny as condemned killer executed in near tears.” read the Houston Chroniclesheadline following the execution of Patrick Byran Knight. 


Patrick Bryan Knight was sentenced to death in 1991 after abducting and murdering his neighbours. After filling for multiple denied appeals, Knight was executed on June 26th, 2007 by lethal injection. 


According to multiple sources, Patrick Bryan Knight wanted to make a joke as his last statement. The idea came from a fellow death-row inmate, Vincent Gutierrez, who said, “Where is my stunt double when you need one?” before dying. After months of asking people to come up with a joke for ages, he decided to come with one on his own.


“I said I was going to tell a joke. Death has set me free. That’s the biggest joke. I deserve this.” He later added, “And the other joke is that I am not Patrick Bryan Knight and y’all can’t stop this execution now. Go ahead. I’m finished.”


Of all the jokes in the world, Patrick Bryan Knight decided to waste his last breath to deliver such a terrible one. I should probably move to the conclusion. Speaking badly of the dead is a grave mistake.


Hopefully, no one reading this will be sentenced to death. But if you somehow manage to end up in death-row, your last words may be your time to shine as a comedian. After all, it can put the fun back in your funeral. 


Okay, I’ll stop now.


Jacques Wang

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