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Child killer executed in first U.S. hanging in 28 years

By TOM BANSE

WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Child-killer Westley Allen Dodd early Tuesday received his wish to die by the same method he used on one of his victims, the first execution by hanging in the United States since 1965.

A prison medical examiner confirmed that Dodd, who did not fight his death sentence and chose hanging over lethal injection, died at 12:09 a. m., less than five full minutes after his hooded body dropped through a trap door in front of 16 witnesses, including two family members of Dodd's victims.

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The sexual predator turned killer received the death sentence two years ago for three murders -- the stabbing deaths of Cole Neer, 11, and his brother William, 10, of Vancouver, Wash., and the smothering and hanging of Lee Iseli, 4, of Portland, Ore., in 1989.

Dodd was captured six weeks after the Iseli murder while trying to kidnap another young boy he has said would have been his fourth victim.

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The Washington Supreme Court cleared the way on Monday for Washington state's first execution in 30 years, rejecting pleas from the American Civil Liberties Union that hanging constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Without a willing plaintiff, no federal court appeal was possible.

Prison officials said Dodd ate a last meal of salmon, scalloped potatoes, mixed vegetables, cole slaw and lemon cake, which he was allowed to select from the normal prison menu. On his last day he received but two visitors, his attorney and a clergy person who requested anonimity.

Outside, several dozen demonstrators gathered in the snow, equally divided for and against Dodd's hanging. State troopers arrested three men and a woman who prayed as they tried to move onto the prison grounds with candles about an hour before the execution. Pro-hanging demonstrators cheered and set off firecrackers at the moment of Dodd's execution.

Witnesses said shortly before midnight, Dodd suddenly was brought into the upper half of the execution chamber and spoke his final words, a rambling, 25-word statement ending with, 'There is hope. There is peace. I found both in Jesus Christ. Look to the Lord and you will find peace.'

A black hood was then placed over his head which was then placed in a noose tied according to a U.S. Army handbook. None of the current prison staff at Washington State Penitentiary had ever carried out a hanging.

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At the urging of the ACLU, a screen that would have allowed the witnesses to see only a silhouette of the hanging was eliminated from the lower half of the chamber and used in the upper half only after Dodd finished speaking.

Once the trap was released, Dodd dropped into clear view of the witnesses, who sat about 8 feet away, separated only by clear glass. They said the screen was drawn again after about a minute, by which time all movement had ceased.

The witnesses included Iseli's mother, Jewell Cornnell, who hissed at Dodd's mention of Jesus Christ, and Clare Neer, the father of Dodd's two other victims. Neither spoke after the hanging. Also present were an ACLU observer, Dodd's attorney and a dozen members of the news media.

Reporters said the hanging was swift and almost sterile. They said Dodd twitched once or twice as his body relaxed, possibly fulfilling one of his stated hopes that his death would bring relief from his being alternately tortured and aroused by the memories of what he had done.

'They put the hood over his head after drawing the shade, you heard a bang and he appeared in front of us,' said Terry McConn of the Walla Walla Union Bulletin. 'It was though I was looking through a department store window ... It was almost surreal. It didn't seem like it was happening.'

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Before the hanging, Cornnell told reporters she wanted to see Dodd die not out of revenge but in order toheal.

'I believe that it will help me heal. It's a closure. It'll never, ever, ever be over,' she said, 'but I think it will help me heal and I can go to be at rest and so can Lee.'

The swiftness of the execution seemed to undermine the arguments of ACLU attorneys who had warned the hanging might be botched and result in a horrifying, grisly death. Those arguments were rejected in a 7-1 vote of the state Supreme Court.

In addition to Washington, only Delaware, Montana and New Hampshire offer hanging as a choice for the condemned. In addition to the United States, Turkey and Japan are the only major industrialized nations to still execute by hanging.

Dodd, said by criminal psychologists to be an 'escalating psychopathic killer,' admitted he derived sexual gratification from killing and asked to be executed to keep him from doing it again because he did not know how to stop.

At a court hearing earlier in the case, Dodd said if he remained in prison he would '...do everything I can to escape...and if necessary kill guards on the way out (and) go back to what I was doing before... kill kids.'

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Dodd said he chose hanging because that's how he killed the Iseli boy at Dodd's apartment and he wants to be similarly punished.

Over the weekend, Dodd's brother said he, too, supported the execution, calling Dodd a monster who 'used to be my brother.'

Dodd had a history of 'falling through the cracks' of the justice system, and some experts said his case showed the system's inability to rehabilitate some types of sex offenders.

Dodd was arrested a number of times for exposing himself to children, but never jailed, and was kicked out of the Navy for molesting children after just two months of service.

In the wake of the Dodd case, the Legislature passed a law, which the ACLU also is challenging, allowing the state to lock up sexual predators indefinitely, beyond their scheduled release from prison, if a jury rules they are likely to commit such crimes again.

And local jurisdictions, acting under state authority, now warn the public when a sexual predator is released back into society.

Scientists at Western State Hospital in Steilacoom, outside Seattle, said Tuesday they hoped they would be allowed to examine Dodd's remains to search for physiological clues to the behavior of an obsessed killer.

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'With such a terrible, tragic thing, if there's anything positive we could learn about this kind of behavior, we should try,' said Dr. Jerry Dennis, the hospital's psychiatrist and medical director.

'There may be underlying neurologic or anatomic (abnormalities). Even finding no such changes is significant.'

Dodd's body first was to undergo an autopsy by the King County medical examiner to determine whether he died of a broken neck or strangulation. That finding could have bearing on future legal arguments on whether hanging is cruel and unusual punishment.

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