Sentenced to hang for the murder of his wife, Frank Stemmer had not for one moment stopped proclaiming his innocence.

The trial was fairly straightforward. Circumstantial evidence all pointed in his direction. Three eyewitnesses saw a man who fit Frank’s description running from the murder scene, and all three identified him in a police lineup. A smudged fingerprint on the murder weapon was a partial match. Prosecuting attorneys detailed the crime in exquisite detail, and laid out the motive quite eloquently.

According to the prosecution, the marriage was failing and the parties had recently separated. Frank was desperate to hold onto his assets, which included an accounting business, savings of more than a half-million, stocks and investments of an additional million, a beautiful house, a vacation home on a lake, and three expensive automobiles. To make matters worse, Frank had recently taken out a life insurance policy on his wife for $750,000. The district attorney masterfully convinced the jury that Frank was a sniveling miser who valued money over life.

Now sitting on death row, Frank had a lot of time to think. Executions do not proceed quickly. There are numerous administrative items and appeals that intervene. However, the appeals court was not convinced of a significant reason to overturn the verdict. Frank remained in prison awaiting his date with destiny.

As his execution rapidly approached, Frank spent his days in the prison library, reading legal books and statutes. He became highly educated in the state legal code. One specific item stood out. It involved a man’s last meal and the legal responsibilities of the state thereby.

The day had arrived, and Frank was readied for death. He appreciated a visit from the prison clergyman, but prayer was not what he needed right now. It was something else.

The warden and her team spoke with Frank and asked him what he wanted as his last meal. Frank thought about it for a few minutes, then made his request.

“For my last meal, I would like a bowl of black sapote.”

The warden looked at the members of her team, then looked back at Frank.

The warden inquired, “What was that you want?”

Frank stated again, “I would like a bowl of black sapote. It’s also known as chocolate pudding fruit. It’s a type of persimmon, technically known as Diospyros nigra.“

The warden humphed and said, “I’m sorry, but I don’t know what that is, and we don’t have any. You’ll have to choose something else.”

But Frank countered, “Warden, I think you’ll find in the state statute governing executions that the prisoner’s request cannot be dismissed. You are required to satisfy my choice. The law is very clear about that. If you would like, I could quote the exact statute in the state legal code.”

The warden replied, “Well, OK, then, we will just have to get you some chocolate pudding fruit.” Now turning to her assistant, she commanded, “John, see about getting this man some chocolate pudding fruit.”

The warden’s assistant immediately set about to find some chocolate pudding fruit, first by calling a few local grocery stores. However, the answers were not promising.

“Hello, may I speak with the fruit manager? Mr. Watters? Oh, hello, Mr. Watters. I have a little situation here at the state prison. We need some chocolate pudding fruit for one of the prisoners, and as soon as possible.”

Mr. Watters, the manager, responded, “John, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. We haven’t had any chocolate pudding fruit in years. I remember that we did get a shipment about 10 years ago, but there is a world-wide shortage now, and the supply chain situation is impenetrable. They come from Mexico, Central America and Colombia. You know, with all the emigration going on and the border crisis, farming in those countries has come to a serious halt. I haven’t seen chocolate pudding fruit in many years. You might as well forget it. We could try ordering it for you, but it might take months to get the shipment, if at all.”

Several additional calls to sources around the country were as unsuccessful. Chocolate pudding fruit was nowhere to be found.

The warden consulted with the prison legal counsel and the district attorney regarding the state’s responsibility for fulfilling the prisoner’s request. Upon careful review of the statute, the conclusion was as Frank had described. No chocolate pudding fruit, no execution. And that fact did not sit well with the warden, who now felt it a personal mission to get that execution done.

“John,” the warden barked, “I want this execution accomplished. We haven’t executed anyone in more than one year. That just doesn’t look good. I’m going to become a laughing stock. What kind of a warden can’t get a simple execution completed? It’s ridiculous. Look, get on that phone and call that fruit manager again. Get me that chocolate pudding fruit. Have Mr. Watters order a case of it. I don’t care how you do it. Just get me that fruit.”

John, the assistant warden, took pleasure in passing Frank Stemmer’s cell that afternoon to inform him of the warden’s plan. John enjoyed watching prisoners squirm a little. He took every opportunity available to heighten a man’s anxiety.

“Hey, Frank, don’t think you have us in a bind. We are going to win this battle. I’m going to call that fruit manager, Mr. Watters, to order a whole case of chocolate pudding fruit. It’s only a matter of time until we get our shipment and you get what’s coming to you. Ha!”

Frank Stemmer once again had the solitude of the prison cell to ponder his current worrisome situation. He was entitled to visitors and phone calls and enjoyed speaking with his brother, Stan. He received a visit from Stan the following morning and discussed a new plan with him, whispering as quietly as possible.

“Stan, listen carefully,” Frank instructed. “Go to the City Fruit Market on Throckmorton Street. Speak with a Mr. Watters, the fruit manager. Tell him you’ll pay him $1,000 for any case of chocolate pudding fruit he gets in. Offer to pay him in cash under the table.”

Stan responded, “You got it!”

Several months went by, and the warden became increasingly agitated. “John, where the heck is that chocolate pudding fruit? I told you to get me a case as soon as possible.”

John admitted, “I’m really sorry, warden. I call that manager every week but he tells me nothing has come in. Believe me, I’m on it.”

Three additional years passed, and by this time, the warden was at her wit’s end. She stormed into her assistant’s office like a bulldozer.

“John! I’ve had it. Get me that chocolate pudding fruit this week or you’re fired!” She slammed the door and waddled back to her office, only to hear her phone ringing.


A baritone voice filled the receiver. “Hello, may I speak with warden Maxine Johnston?”

“This is warden Johnston,” she snapped.

“Ms. Johnston, my name is Bill Roeder. I work with Project Innocence. We are an organization that re-examines death penalty cases throughout the country where we believe there may have been a wrongful conviction. There is one prisoner under your care who I understand is currently awaiting execution for the crime of killing his wife. His name is Frank Stemmer.”

The warden confirmed, “Yes, that’s right. He was originally scheduled for execution several years ago, but a very peculiar quirk in the state statute prevented us from moving ahead with it.”

Bill Roeder continued. “Well, that’s a good thing, because we were able to re-process genetic evidence from the crime scene recently which definitively ruled Stemmer out as the perpetrator. His DNA did not match the sample on the murder weapon. And I’m sure you know that genetic analysis is accurate to an extremely high degree. On the other hand, when we ran the result through the state prison genetic bank, we had a hit on a career criminal who was working as a pool contractor at their home at the time of the murder. Our analysis confirmed to a confidence level approaching one in a trillion that this career criminal was the murderer. The police picked the guy up yesterday. Frank is innocent, as he had always claimed. I notified the judge in the case, and he’s going to be issuing an order nullifying the verdict and releasing Frank Stemmer from prison.”

The warden, contemplating the impact of what she had just heard, finally said, “Mr. Roeder, I want to thank you for this information. We will inform our prisoner and of course comply with the judge’s order when it comes through.”

Several days later, Frank Stemmer was a free man. And although he had to face life without his beloved wife, he decided to work with Project Innocence in any capacity they could use.

When he arrived at his home, his brother Stan was there to greet him.

“Frank, it’s so good to see you back in civilization! I really didn’t think I would ever see you out of prison. It really didn’t look good for you.”

Frank walked into the kitchen he knew so well and sat down at the table, only to notice a large freezer in the next room.

“Hey, Stan, what’s that big freezer doing in the living room?”

Stan smiled. “It’s your chocolate pudding fruit. I purchased 38 cases of it from Mr. Watters. He found a supplier who sent him a case every month. He did pretty well. 38,000 bucks right into his pocket.”

Frank laughed. “You know, I don’t mind at all. Let him enjoy the money. And, guess what? I’m going to eat every single black sapote in those cases!”

With that proclamation, Stan opened up a case and served Frank and himself each a large bowl of chocolate pudding fruit. The brothers held up spoons of the sumptuous pudding and toasted for a happy and healthy future.


October 28, 2022 18:16

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Graham Kinross
06:14 Jan 17, 2023

This is the best example of a thing I always wondered, why do death row prisoners ask for things as simple as a MacDonalds meal? It also reminds me of a story from the news when I was younger about a fellow Scot who was on death row for burning some building down that had people inside, decades later he was saved when the ‘expert’ witness who had helped prosecute him turned out to be a scam artist. It had hints of The Fugitive as well, except he had to wait for someone else to prove his innocence.


07:08 Jan 17, 2023

Wow! Very interesting! Maybe the guy should have asked for chocolate pudding fruit.


Graham Kinross
09:57 Jan 17, 2023

He got out eventually. He’d been on death row for half his life by that point but it’s something.


Graham Kinross
10:08 Jan 17, 2023

Not quite how I remembered it but this is him. His story actually seems like a mix of your first two. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenny_Richey


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Helen A Smith
10:07 Nov 25, 2022

A very readable story where the innocent prisoner used his intelligence to work a way round his terrible dilemma. I really wanted him to survive. With the difficulty of getting hold of the last meal, I wondered whether you set the story more in the future? Not that it really matters. It could just as easily apply to these times. Thanks for another good story Bruce


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Tommy Goround
00:12 Nov 12, 2022



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Eileen Turner
02:01 Nov 08, 2022

Where there's a will, there's a way. Good read.


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John Lindquist
21:55 Nov 07, 2022

I enjoyed your story, thank you for the good read!


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Aoi Yamato
02:07 Jun 08, 2023

this is excellent martin. thank you.


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