(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)
On this date in 1994, an uncooperative Charles Rodman Campbell was lashed to a board to keep him upright, and hanged by the neck until dead at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.
According to this Seattle Times timeline of his life and crimes, Campbell had been getting in trouble since he was a child, to the extent that by the time he was seventeen his mother had given up on him and never wanted him back home again. His crimes began with burglary and drug use but quickly escalated into violence.
Charles Rodman Campbell is a killer straight out of a nightmare. There should have been some way to keep him locked up forever. But he slipped through the loopholes of our justice system and he was allowed freedom to stalk his unknowing victims. If ever there was a case that pitted innocence against pure evil, it is this one. He was out of his cage, and he was aware of every facet of her life, and yet his potential prey felt only a chill premonition of danger. He was a man consumed with rage and the need for revenge. Because of a neglectful bureaucracy, Campbell was allowed to take not one life — but three.
The sordid story that lead to his execution began on December 11, 1974, when Campbell broke into the rural Clearview, Washington home of Renae Louise Wicklund. He held a knife to the throat of her baby daughter, Shannah, forced Renae to perform oral sex on him, then fled the scene.
It took over a year to arrest him, but Renae identified him as her attacker and in 1976 he was convicted of burglary, sodomy and first-degree assault and sentenced to thirty years in prison.
In an appalling oversight, Campbell was put on work-release for good behavior in 1981. His behavior in the Monroe Reformatory hadn’t been good at all: he’d racked up multiple infractions for drug trafficking and sexual and physical violence against his fellow inmates. A prison psychologist described him as “uncaring of others, conscienceless, malevolently intolerant of the social order which imprisons him, and imminently harmful to all who directly or indirectly capture his attention or interest.”
It wasn’t until much, much too late that the parole board discovered the Monroe Reformatory was not supplying them with full records of prisoners’ infractions. Hundreds of inmates, it turned out, had been released without a complete evaluation of their behavior in custody.
No surprise, Campbell’s behavior on work-release wasn’t good either. He displayed “poor attitude and behavior,” he was caught drinking alcohol, and his ex-wife claimed he slipped away from his job twice to rape her.
But somehow, the authorities neglected to return him to prison.
Renae Wicklund still lived in the Clearview home where she had been attacked in 1974, and she wasn’t notified when Campbell was let out of prison. In January 1982, he was transferred to a work-release residence less than ten miles from Clearview and he began staking out her house, planning his next move.
On April 14, Campbell went to her home and found her there with Shannah (now eight years old) and a neighbor, Barbara Hendrickson, who along with Renae had testified against him at the rape trial.
Campbell killed them all by slashing their throats. Renae got special treatment: she was also beaten, strangled, stripped naked and her genitals mutilated.
He’d finally committed an offense grave enough to revoke his work-release status.
Campbell was arrested almost immediately and, at his trial, had little to say for himself. It can’t have been hard for the jury to choose the death sentence. As a result of the triple homicide, Washington state passed a law requiring that victims of violent crime be informed when their attackers are released from prison.
The state of Washington allowed (and still allows — it’s the only state with an active gallows) a condemned inmate a choice in the manner of death: hanging, or lethal injection.
During his twelve years of appeals, Campbell refused to make the choice and argued that being made to choose meant the state was effectively forcing him to commit suicide. The default method at the time for a prisoner who refused to choose was hanging,* and Campbell further claimed that was cruel and unusual punishment.
His case actually made it up to the U.S. Supreme Court, but it declined to hear his appeal.
When his time came, the prison staff had to use pepper spray to persuade him to come out of his cell, strap him to a board and drag him to the scaffold, and even then he made things difficult by turning his head this way and that while they tried to secure the hood and noose. But he couldn’t delay the end for long. The prison guards would later find makeshift weapons in his cell, including a four-inch piece of metal in his cell that had been sharpened into a blade.
As of this writing, Campbell was the last man to be judicially hanged in Washington state (though not the last in the U.S.).
* In 1996, the default method of execution in Washington changed to lethal injection.