Dick and Perry are transferred to Death Row at the Kansas State Penitentiary, a small “coffin-shaped” building at one end of the prison compound. Among their fellow inmates is Lowell Lee Andrews, a former honors student at the University of Kansas who has been found guilty of the brutal and calculated murders of his parents and older sister. Much like Dick and Perry’s case, the Andrews case “became the basis for a legal and medical crusade,” in which lawyers attempted, unsuccessfully, to use Andrews’s psychological imbalance as a defense against imprisonment and the death penalty.
Dick and Perry’s relationship has become one of “mutual toleration,” and despite living in adjacent cells, they hardly communicate with one another, because Perry doesn’t like being overheard by the other inmates and guards. Perry especially dislikes Andrews, who is better educated than him and often corrects his grammar.
By the beginning of June, Perry has stopped eating, and spends the summer in the prison hospital, connected to a feeding tube yet still refusing sustenance, determined to take his own life before it can be taken from him. One afternoon, however, he receives a card from his father, addressed to the warden, inquiring about his son; the card inspires a frenzy of “love and hate,” and Perry resolves to end his fast and return to the world of the living.
Two years pass, along with several postponements of the execution date. Two teenagers, Ronnie York and James Latham, who have been convicted of a serial murder rampage across the United States, join the row.
Dick writes a number of appeals arguing that he and Perry have not had a fair trial, one of which catches the eye of Everett Steerman, the Chairman of the Legal Aid Committee at the Kansas Bar Association. As a result, the Bar Association conducts a series of hearings, which are essentially intended to protect the reputation of the Kansas Courts rather than to rehash the murder case. The investigating attorney, Russell Shultz, finds little evidence supporting Dick’s claims of an unfair trial, and the Judge issues a new date of execution, October 25, 1962. This date, in the end, passes by harmlessly, but Andrews is hanged a month later.
In a long soliloquy in the final pages of the book, Dick describes the death of Andrews, and how Perry “wasn’t sorry to see the last of Andy.” He describes Perry as lonely and bitter, never receiving visitors except “the journalist” (Capote), and jealous of any correspondence that Dick receives.
Three more years pass, and Shultz’s replacements, Joseph P. Jenkins and Robert Bingham, file several more appeals to postpone the execution date. The case reaches the United States Supreme Court three times, but is denied a hearing in each instance. Finally, the Kansas Supreme Court sets the date for April 14th, 1965.
The focus shifts to Agent Dewey, from whose perspective the final few scenes of the book are presented. He attends the execution, to watch first Dick, then Perry (like a “creature walking wounded”) finally meet their demise. Poignantly, Perry’s final words are, “It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize.”
The narrative rewinds to the previous May, where it finds Dewey weeding his father’s grave in the Garden City cemetery. He reflects on the events of the previous four years: the passing of Judge Tate and other members of the community, and the recent marriage of Bobby Rupp. Wandering over to the Clutters’ grave, he finds Susan Kidwell, who is a junior at the University of Kansas, and is back for a visit to Holcomb. They converse about the passage of time and the more recent events of their lives, and she finally departs, leaving Dewey to the “whisper of wind voices in the wind-bent wheat” (343).
The introduction of Lowell Lee Andrews throws the characters of Dick and Perry into relief once more. On the one hand, Andrews’ criminality is described in much simpler terms than the other two: unlike Perry and Dick – whose criminal tendencies have been the result of a complex interplay of environmental factors, and for whom murder comes as a “psychological accident” – Andrews’ murderous impulses are described as basic to his nature. He is an otherwise ordinary boy whose one outstanding feature is that “it seemed to him just as right to kill his mother as to kill an animal or a fly” (316).
On the other hand, Lowell Lee has much in common with Dick and Perry: both the Andrews and the Clutter cases are ambiguous from a legal and moral standpoint, for Andrews, like Dick and Perry, suffers from a diagnosable mental condition that played a very direct role in his decision to carry out the murders. And, as with Dick and Perry, the courts have been unsympathetic to these complicating factors; Andrews is another person whom the system has “left behind,” who has proven, in some sense, too complex or cumbersome to be accommodated.
As the prisoners on the row are forced to confront the reality of their own impending deaths, each conducts himself in a characteristic fashion. Perry, who hates to think of himself at the mercy of the authorities, attempts to take matters into his own hands by starving himself. Dick, ever the pragmatist, accepts the sentence calmly, even good-naturedly, but concocts a number of schemes to free himself, including the appeals to the Kansas Bar Association. Andrews is by far the most complacent among them, declaring that “sooner or later we’ll all get out of here. Either walk out—or be carried out in a coffin. Myself, I don’t care whether I walk or get carried” (318).
While the majority of the text has been dedicated to the eight weeks following the murders – the investigation, pursuit, and trial of the killers – a scant few pages remain to describe the comparatively vast expanse of time that the prisoners are on death row; indeed, these five years are something of an afterthought. In part, the clipped pace of this last section is a testament to the tedium of the cell block (the details of the prisoners’ day-to-day existence are hardly worth the space they would occupy on the page), but it is also an implicit testimonial to the value that society places on these men after their condemnation. Locked away, they are soon forgotten, such that even the narrative seems ready to be rid of them. (Capote, too, was anxious for the execution day to arrive, having sacrificed a great deal – including his mental health – in order to see the story through to completion.)
Nevertheless, Capote’s undeniable affection for the prisoners begins to show in the final pages. So careful to keep himself out of the narrative up to this point, he allows himself to appear twice in a conversation with Dick (as “the journalist”), in one of the last scenes of the book. Historically speaking, at this point in his research, he was more enmeshed with Perry and Dick than ever, and at last he seems tacitly to acknowledge his own agency in shaping the events of the story (for it is true that he played a significant role in the prisoners’ lives during these final few years).
The final episode, with Alvin Dewey in the graveyard, is one of the only fictional scenes in the book. Capote wanted to end In Cold Blood on a hopeful note, and so he invented the exchange between Dewey and Sue Kidwell (a move that earned him a great deal of criticism, from reviewers who otherwise applauded the book). Nevertheless, Capote wanted to use this scene to make a final point: that life persists, and time marches forward, even in the aftermath of such great upheaval and tragedy. Both Dewey and Sue Kidwell are in the process of looking back, but they are also oriented toward the future. Even the landscape, with which Capote began the narrative and with which he now concludes it, offers a poignant reminder that the seasons – like human life itself – come and go with the passing years.