End of the Rope?

By Shapiro, Andrew L. | The Nation, June 6, 1994 | Go to article overview

End of the Rope?


Shapiro, Andrew L., The Nation


On May 27, if the State of Washington has its way, Charles Campbell will climb thirteen stairs, step on a trapdoor and be dropped five and a half feet to dangle from the end of a rope. If all goes well, his neck will snap immediately and he will die without prolonged pain. But there is also a fair chance that he will strangle slowly or his head will rip off. The authorities at the state prison in Walla Walla will have prepared for such exigencies by covering Campbell's head with a black hood and by seating witnesses behind glass so they aren't sprayed with blood, as witnesses at that prison were in the early 1960s when a botched hanging led to an almost complete decapitation.

Last year in Washington Westley Allan Dodd chose to die by hanging rather than lethal injection, making him the first American in three decades to be executed by hanging. Campbell, a triple murderer on death row for twelve years, refuses on religious grounds to make any choice. Instead he has asked the Supreme Court to stay his execution and review the constitutionality of hanging. In particular, Campbell wants the Supreme Court to reverse an unprecedented 6-to-5 decision against him by a Ninth Circuit appellate panel, a decision that could eviscerate the already weak "cruel and unusual" Eighth Amendment punishment standard, and affect challenges to other execution methods, like lethal gas, as well.

The Ninth Circuit majority held that hanging is not "unnecessarily painful. …

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