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The Hangman Pushes a Button With AM-Dodd Hanging, Bjt

January 5, 1993

WALLA WALLA, Wash. (AP) _ At the push of a red button, the trap door springs open on the gallows in the execution chamber at the Washington State Penitentiary.

As the hooded inmate drops to the end of a Manila hemp rope, the large hangman’s knot behind his left ear tightens, fracturing his spine and causing what is supposed to be a nearly instantaneous death.

Child-killer Westley Allan Dodd said he chose hanging over lethal injection because he used a rope to strangle one of his young victims after raping him.

Washington’s execution procedure is laid out in a 12-page Department of Corrections list of instructions. A diagram from an Army manual describes how to make a six-loop hangman’s knot.

The 30-foot rope is three-quarters of an inch to 1 1/4 -inch in diameter. It is boiled and stretched to eliminate springiness, stiffness or coiling. The knot is lubricated with wax, soap or oil to ensure that the noose tightens easily.

If the inmate feels faint, there’s a board with straps nearby to prop him up.

When the prison superintendent gives the signal, an unidentified prison employee hits one of two electrical switches opening the gallows’ twin trap doors. If the switches fail, a manual foot lever will open the door.

According to the manual, the distance a standing person must fall in a hanging to generate enough force so the knot breaks the inmate’s spine depends on the person’s weight. For Dodd, that was calculated at 7 feet, 1 inch.

The body is checked by doctors. Death is announced by the warden.

The last U.S. hangings occurred in 1965.

Only Washington, Montana, Delaware and New Hampshire allow hanging as a form of capital punishment.

The Washington penitentiary’s gallows was built in 1931 and hasn’t been used since 1963, when Joseph Self was hanged for killing a cab driver.

Execution by hanging hasn’t always gone without a hitch. In 1910, Richard Quinn dangled alive for 20 minutes before strangling.

In 1951, Grant Rio was partially decapitated, splattering witnesses with blood, when he hit the end of a rope that was too long.

Now, when a condemned prisoner enters the gallows, a curtain is drawn over the top window that separates the prisoner from spectators, and the prisoner is seen in silhouette as the noose is placed around his neck.

A lower window remains uncovered, so spectators see the gallows door drop open and the inmate fall through.

Normally, a curtain would be drawn over that window moments after the inmate falls. But Superior Court Judge Rick Strophy ruled Monday that that curtain must remain open until all movement of the body has stopped.

The ruling was in response to a request by hanging opponents who are trying to build a body of evidence supporting their contention that hanging constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

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