Cookies

This Website use Cookies OK

Read more Crime News

Philip Ray Workman’s last request

2019-08-18

Veggie Pizza (smpics/Getty Images/iStockphoto)

On the day of his execution, May 9, 2007, Philip Ray Workman, 53, shared his last supper with a crowd.

Rejecting jailhouse tradition, Workman asked that his last meal — a vegetarian pizza — be given to a homeless person.

Prison officials refused, saying that making contributions to charity was not their responsibility.

Word of the request reached the media and the story was soon national news. Pies began to roll into Nashville homeless shelters from all over the country. One hundred seventy pizzas were donated to the Nashville Union Rescue Mission. Listeners of a Minnesota radio station sent pizzas to a center for homeless teens, according to a front-page story in The Tennessean.

Death row inmate Philip Workman talks about the stay of execution he received during an interview at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, Tenn.
Death row inmate Philip Workman talks about the stay of execution he received during an interview at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, Tenn. (MARK HUMPHREY/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

This was not the first time food put Workman, who was on death row for 25 years, in the headlines.

The first time was Aug. 5, 1981, when he held up a Wendy’s in Memphis. Back then, Workman was an Army veteran who lived in Georgia. He had a wife, baby, and a cocaine addiction.

On that hot night, he entered the fast food joint near closing time, ordered a hamburger, and waited for the right moment to pounce. By around 10:30 p.m., all of the other customers were gone, and the employees were cleaning up. Workman pulled a .45 automatic pistol from his waistband and ordered everybody down on the ground. He told one woman to get up and fill a canvas sack with the cash, about $1,170, from the register.

An employee complained that his leg was cramping, so Workman allowed him to stand. That man triggered a silent alarm. Police cruisers started to arrive as Workman walked out the door. He ran right into Lieutenant Ronald Oliver, 43, first to respond to the call, and chatted with him, pretending to be a worker.

Then other police cars pulled up.

Workman panicked and tried to sprint away, but he tripped over a curb and fell.

Oliver yelled, “Where’s your gun?”

Workman was on his knees, he recalled, and he held the pistol up to surrender it, wrote Joseph B. Ingle, in his book on the case, “The Inferno.”

The Inferno, by Joseph B. Ingle (Westview)
The Inferno, by Joseph B. Ingle (Westview)

What happened next would be a matter of contention for decades to come.

Workman said that Oliver hit him in the head with a blunt object he thought was a flashlight. The blow caused him to accidentally fire his pistol twice, he said, sending one round into the air and another crashing into the pavement.

Bullets started flying. A shotgun blast hit Workman in the buttocks. A slug tore into Oliver’s chest, passed through his torso, and killed him.

Workman fled into a nearby field, where police used helicopters and dogs to track him. About an hour later, they spotted the fugitive, covered in blood from the head wound, cowering in some bushes.

He was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.

Workman admitted to shooting at police. “I had my hands around the gun, and I guess I pointed it at the officers,” he told the court during his trial in March 1982.

But he could not recall the shot that killed Oliver.

Prosecutors produced a witness, Harold Davis, who swore that he saw Workman fire the fatal bullet.

It took only 75 minutes for a jury to find Workman guilty. They later decided that he deserved the death penalty.

The verdict was the start of years of appeals, stays, and pleas for clemency. His lawyers dug up evidence that pointed to a case of wrongful conviction. Pathologists said that Oliver’s autopsy showed wounds that could not have been made with the hollow-point bullets from Workman’s gun. It suggested that Oliver was killed by friendly fire.

Sabine Schlunk protests the execution of Philip Workman outside Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, Tenn.,
Sabine Schlunk protests the execution of Philip Workman outside Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, Tenn., (Mark Humphrey/AP)

The lawyers also learned that Davis, a drifter and drug addict, was probably not at the crime scene and no one could recall seeing him there. He popped up later, calling police with the story that he witnessed the crime. Davis later recanted his testimony and said prosecutors pressured him. He passed a polygraph test saying that the story he told was a lie.

There were other inconsistencies in the evidence and testimony presented at the trial and at later hearings.

Workman’s plight became a cause célèbre, with TV documentaries, editorials, and public outcry to save him. Many voices rose in opposition to his execution, including five of the jurors who originally decided his guilt.

The execution was scheduled and delayed five times. In their last attempt to save him, his attorneys argued that the state’s new protocol for lethal injection could constitute cruel and unusual punishment. They took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Convicted killer Philip Workman, right, prays with the Rev. Joe Ingle during a visit at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, Tenn., Nov. 19, 1999.
Convicted killer Philip Workman, right, prays with the Rev. Joe Ingle during a visit at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, Tenn., Nov. 19, 1999. (MARK HUMPHREY/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Eventually, time ran out on Workman’s appeals. He died by lethal injection on May 9, 2007.

As with his request to donate pizza, officials refused a second last wish. Workman became a Seventh-day Adventist behind bars and, because of his religious beliefs he did not want an autopsy. But officials needed to know whether the state’s new lethal cocktail had worked correctly and caused no pain. The only way to achieve that was to examine his corpse.