Some Still Sentenced to Hang

In 1993, Washington State executed Westley Allan Dodd, a convicted murderer of three children. He was hanged -- one of only three death-by-hanging executions in this country since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Washington and New Hampshire are the only states that currently provide for official hanging as a means of execution. But there has been no hanging since 1996 in this country.

"The U.S. has always been skittish and conscious of viewers," says Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center.

Dieter said the shift from hanging to other methods has taken place to make executions "more palpable to the public."

"If hangings were the usual method, we probably would have done away with execution," he told ABCNEWS.com.

But compared to the lynch mob quality of Saddam Hussein's execution and the botched technique employed in the subsequent executions of his top henchmen this week, the United States looks punctilious.

There's a Right Way and a Wrong Way

Jim Willet, who witnessed 89 executions as a warden at the Walls Prison in Huntsville, Texas -- all of them by lethal injection -- said the Saddam execution wasn't carried out properly.

"My first thought in this is how unprofessional the people in this process were," says Willet.

In Dodd's case, he was taken to the gallows on Jan. 5, 1993. Instead of the sectarian hectoring Saddam was exposed to, Dodd's death was observed by a small number of witnesses separated from the actual gallows. His last moments were observed through a window and obscured by a curtain through which silhouettes were visible.

Dodd, who spoke of Jesus Christ in his last statement, had his hands bound in front of him. His legs were strapped together and a hood was placed over his head. In this case, a 6-coil noose was placed on his neck and cinched near the left ear. At 12:05 a.m., a red button was pushed and an electromagnetic release sprung the trap door on which Dodd was positioned. He dropped 7 feet into the room below and appeared lifeless almost instantly.

According to eyewitness accounts, there was no dancing at the end of the rope, no violent movement nor any twitching.

Indeed, hanging advocates frequently point to the quick and relatively painless death that hanging accomplishes.

"It has been and still is a matter of opinion whether, if you wish to kill your undesirable, it is better to… flay him until he dies, or hurl him over a precipice," writes British author Charles Duff. "Or burn him or drown or suffocate him; or entomb him alive … or asphyxiate him in lethal chamber, or press him to death or cut off his head; or produce a sort of coma by means of an electric current … For my own part, I have reached the conclusion that no people can point to a method which is more beautiful and expeditious, or which is aesthetically superior to the … practice of breaking their necks by hanging."

In order for hangings to be done correctly, a relatively methodical regimen must be followed.

The inmate should be weighed before the execution date. A rehearsal using a sandbag roughly the same weight as the condemned should be used to determine the length of the drop necessary to ensure a quick death.

Some experts believe a botched hanging, in which the inmate does not die quickly, could last an agonizingly long 45 minutes.

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