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Texas carries out so many executions -- almost one a week last year -- that it's understandable if area interest in capital punishment has waned recently.
Face it: If you've seen one execution, you've pretty much seen them all. But now, a Dallas-area man -- obviously with way too much time on his hands -- has, ah, injected a competitive twist into death row watching. His arena is www.fantasydeathrow.com.
Following the basics of fantasy football and rotisserie baseball, Fantasy Death Row participants compete by picking three convicts from a list of inmates scheduled to be executed within two months. " Pick them well, because once you've got them, they're yours until they are pardoned, commuted or, bless their heart, called on home to King Jesus," the Web site advises.
If the selected convicts can stay alive a little longer, you'll score big.
Pardons are worth 50 points. Clemency means 25 points, and stays are five points. If an inmate beseeches God's mercy before he is put to death, add one point. On the downside, players lose ten points for each of their inmates who gets executed. It's even worse if that executed inmate gets proved innocent later -- that deducts 50 points from the player's score.
So far there are no points or deductions for the possibility of someone exiting death row via escape or even pardon, then committing another murder.
Thus far, the competition's been a real killer. As of April 20, a team listed as Bush's Legacy was tied for first place, along with Teddies' Toasted Terrors, Buster Brown, J Cogan and Woodbury Death Squad. Other purported teams include Don'tDroptheSoapThere, Sparky, Capital Fun-ishment, Clockwatchers and Last Happy Meal. However, it's anybody's guess if these death squads really exist or if they were created, much like the game itself, for the amusement of the Webmaster.
Fantasy Death Row is the brainchild of an Irving, Texas, computer programmer who doesn't want his real name in print. He goes by the nom de Internet of Conrad Periwinkle, a self-described "unrepentant Marxist" who says he got the idea after seeing a Web site spoofing the Food Network's Iron Chef program. Periwinkle credits his close friend Jake Leg, who bears a striking resemblance to the state fair's Big Tex, with assisting in the Web site's creation. And he insists that Fantasy Death Row, which hit the Internet in March, is neither for nor against capital punishment.
"Actually, the whole point of the Web site is to make people either crap or get off the pot," says Periwinkle. "If you are for the death penalty, you should be doing something to ensure that it's fair and equal. If you're against the death penalty, then you should be doing something to make sure that it's abolished and never returns."
Also available on the site are gifts such as coffee mugs and T-shirts sporting the Fantasy Death Row logo. On-line customers are informed that a portion of the purchase price is donated to Amnesty International -- avid opponents of the death penalty -- or Texans for Equal Justice, a victims' rights organization. Accordingly, Periwinkle says, the site is drawing a mixed reaction.
"The Swedes and the Danes are just crazy for us; we're referenced on a lot of their sites," he says. "But to some people this is sick and disgusting. Some people think this really displays the American attitude towards death."
Fantasy Death Row is actually a subset of sorts of another Web site, Mouth Full of Liquor, a freewheeling, off-the-wall Web address that is better seen than explained. Periwinkle and his partner created it in response to sites like TheOnion.com, a satirical site they don't find especially humorous, or at least not as humorous as they find themselves.
"We like to play up a lot of the inconsistencies we see in the media," says Periwinkle. "For example, we're sick and tired of the hypocrisy of people saying, 'This is the finest American book ever,' and they say it every year."
At Mouth Full of Liquor the browser can find pearls of wisdom such as "We don't care about you. But we're funny." There are also articles by Periwinkle and Leg with titles such as "Why I Love Wimmin."
As for Fantasy Death Row, the contest closes at the end of the year. First prize is one round-trip ticket to Huntsville and a press pass from Mouth Full of Liquor. Second prize: a $75 gift card from Bed, Bath & Beyond that has $68.34 left on it, and a copy of WASP's F*** Like a Beast album that may have belonged to Henry Lee Lucas. Third prize: one VHS videotape of the Family Tiesepisode where Tom Hanks plays the alcoholic uncle who drinks maraschino cherries and vanilla extract.
"The Web site really kind of walks a fine line," says Periwinkle. "Really, the point is nobody wins in this game. But what we're trying to do is get people to be honest about how dichotic we are in America about the death penalty. If it's justice, we should be able to televise it. If it's not justice, then we should be stopping the death penalty."