Washington is the last state in the US
that performs executions by hanging. Two other states (Delaware
and New Hampshire
) continue to have hanging in their books, though only as a backup in the event that lethal injection
is no longer an option. (see: death penalty)
In Washington, though, a death row
inmate has the option between hanging and lethal injection so the executioners
at the state penitentiary
in Walla Walla, Washington
must stay trained in the procedures and keep the gallows
in working order.
The Walla Walla gallows were last used before the option of lethal injection in 1994 to execute Charles Campbell. Campbell appealed his case for years claiming that hanging was cruel and unusual punishment and therefore unconstitutional. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected his claim by a slim 6-5 majority. In the only hanging execution since then, Washington executioners did play a part in helping train Delaware correctional employees when Billy Bailey chose to be hanged there in 1998.
Washington executioners have a 12 page manual issued by their department of corrections on the procedures for executions. It is based largely on a 1969 U.S. Army hanging manual prior to the armed forces abolishing hanging themselves.
Prior to an execution, many things are inspected for proper operation including the gallow's trap door and release. The manila hemp rope
between 3/4 and 1 1/4 inches in diameter and around 30 feet in length is prepared. This is done by soaking it in water and then stretching it to soften it and make sure that it will not spring or coil
. Once the rope has fully dried, the hangman's knot
is tied and treated with lubrication (wax, soap, or oil) to ensure that the noose
will slide smoothly taut
. The rope is then tied in position in the gallows.
At this point information is collected to calculate the proper length of drop in order to put 1260 foot-pounds of force on the inmate's neck to break it. The inmate is weighed, measured, and medical files are read to determine any other factors should be taken into consideration. Improper calculations can result in a prolonged or gruesome death by strangulation, obstructed blood flow, or beheading. A proper hanging results in the dislocation of the third and fourth vertebrae.
On execution day the inmate in restraints is escorted to the gallows and is placed standing over the trap door. The inmate is then allowed a last statement and a hood is placed over their head and legs are tied together. If the inmate cannot or refuses to stand their legs are strapped to a collapse board. The prepared noose is placed snugly around the convict's neck with the knot behind the left ear. Finally, the release button is pushed which opens the trap door, dropping the inmate to their death.