Archive for January 25th, 2010

1996: Billy Bailey, the last American hanged

7 comments January 25th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1996, Billy Bailey was hanged for murdering an elderly couple in Delaware.

Bailey was condemned in 1980, which was before Texas debuted the lethal injection trend that would sweep the nation; therefore, he was sentenced to hang. When Delaware switched to injection in 1986, Bailey had the choice between his original hempen-necktie sentence or the newfangled gurney.

Authorities wanted him to get with the times. Warden Robert Snyder, who would also serve as hangman, told the press, “Our gallows is pretty primitive here. We’ve made some improvement, but hopefully this will be the last hanging in Delaware.”

Billy Bailey wasn’t interested.

“I’m not a dog,” he said to one visitor. “I’m not going to let them put me to sleep.”

For all the worry that a state out of practice with its gallows technique would botch the job, Delaware carried it off without embarrassment.

Though Bailey’s pretty certain to be the last man hanged in the Blue Hen State — Delaware has gone and dismantled that primitive gallows — he is no lock to keep his place as the last hanged anywhere in the U.S.

Washington state, which hanged two people in the early 1990′s and did some consulting on the procedure for Delaware officials, still allows the condemned a choice between lethal injection and hanging. Executions there aren’t common — it’s been over eight years as of this writing — but they’re not unheard-of. Between the prospect of a lethal injection botch and the morbid appeal of notching milestone status, it’s only a matter of time before someone else opts to hang.

(New Hampshire, which is even more out of practice with the art, also still retains hanging as a backup option.)

Part of the Daily Double: Throwback Executions.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Delaware,Execution,Hanged,Milestones,Murder,USA

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Daily Double: Throwback Executions

Add comment January 25th, 2010 Headsman

This blog traffics in the the human forces that drive men and women to the scaffold: whether the implacable distant hand of History, the fickle chance of Fate, or the vulgar personal desires we have in such ample supply.

But the scaffold gazes also into thee … and sometimes, the dead stretch out to touch the living in unexpected ways.

By coincidence, Jan. 25 and 26 of 1996 saw rare uses of two anachronistic methods of execution in the United States — holdovers from executions in the Republic’s youth, before science started devising less personal, more mechanical ways to kill. In fact, these executions on consecutive days in 1996 are as of this writing the last time that either hanging or the firing squad has been used in this country.

That strange spectacles drew international news coverage, which seems to have led in turn to the accidental suicide of an Italian youth in the town of Noceto.

A 12-year-old boy hanged himself after … asking his parents “if people suffer at the gallows” … after [the family] watched one of the evening news programs, which have prominently featured the Utah firing squad and an execution by hanging in Delaware.

This blog has no answer for the boy “D.M.,” any more than it has for our usual clientele. It is even likely that one or both of the two we note here whose dates with death were scheduled will turn out not to keep their current distinctions of being the last men judicially hanged and shot in the U.S.

But then, all life is contingent and ephemeral. This theme, too, is part of the traffic of Executed Today.

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