The execution of Westley Allan Dodd, shortly after midnight, caused an outcry among civil liberties groups who had vainly appealed for a stay of execution on the grounds that hanging is an inhumane form of punishment, and therefore a violation of the US constitution.
Mr Dodd had the option of a lethal injection, but chose to be hanged because he strangled one of his three young victims, a four-year-old boy whom he sexually abused and tortured for two days. He repeatedly waived appeals and warned that, if spared, he would 'kill and rape again and enjoy every minute of it'.
The execution was the first in Washington, a state with a reputation for being progressive, since 1963 and is the latest step in the US's increasing use of capital punishment. Last year, 31 people were executed nationwide.
Mr Dodd, who was executed at a state penitentiary in Walla Walla, 300 miles south-east of Seattle, was pronounced dead four minutes after his hooded body dropped through a trap-door at the end of a 7ft 1in rope. However, witnesses, who included 12 journalists, said that his death appeared swift.
'There was one slight flex of the rope and his body moved sideways,' said Joe Hart, a radio reporter. 'It was very quick. It was not gruesome.'
On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union brought a suit in the Washington State Supreme Court on behalf of 26 residents, claiming that hanging - abolished in Britain in 1965 - constitutes 'cruel and unusual' punishment. This was supported by a Cardiff-based pathologist with evidence from his study of bodies of people hanged in British prisons. However, the court rejected the case, clearing the way for the hanging to go ahead.
While in prison, Dodd wrote a pamphlet for children, warning them against sex attackers. He insisted he was incurable, though he appears to have changed his mind at the last minute after a religious conversion. In his final words, he said he was wrong to have claimed there was no means of preventing sex offenders; he found 'hope and peace' in Jesus Christ.
The last hanging in the US was in Kansas in 1965, when four murderers were put to death. A hangman had to be specially trained for yesterday's execution, using guidelines from a military manual. The execution split public opinion. There were statewide vigils, but outside the prison 150 people greeted his death with cheers, firecrackers and sparklers.
Only three US states allow hanging, a practice more commonly associated with countries with dubious records on human rights - for instance, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. 'Hanging is barbaric and outrageous and demonstrates that the US is lagging far behind in terms of human rights,' said a spokesman for the capital punishment project of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
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