Friday, September 09, 2011


Here is how Dorina Lisson, my Aussie anti-death penalty friend responded to my post, ’33 Years On Death Row For Killing A Cop And The Appeals Keep Going On And On’ (9-7-11):

You state … ‘They should bring back hanging and be done with it.’

Submitted by Dorina Lisson

Immediately before the hanging, the prisoner's hands and legs are tied and secured, the noose is placed around the neck with the knot behind the left ear. A hood is then pulled over the prisoner's head.

Hooding the prisoner saves government officials' who have to witness the execution from seeing the prisoner's face as he is about to die and also after the death. Not looking at the condemned person's face is one way of coming to terms with state-sanctioned killing, but righteousness is another.

The hanging takes place when a trapdoor is opened and the prisoner falls through. At the end of the 'drop' the body, still accelerating under the force of gravity, delivers a massive blow to the back and one side of the neck, which combined with the downward momentum of the body breaks the neck and ruptures the spinal cord. The prisoner's weight is supposed to cause a rapid fracture-dislocation of the neck - allegedly caused by dislocation of the third and fourth cervical vertebrae or asphyxiation.

Truth is, that instantaneous death is rarely achieved. Death by hanging is not a humane method of exterminating a healthy human being. It is a very brutal and cruel death. The condemned often collapse or faint before the noose can be properly positioned over his/her head.

Death by hanging is often botched or carried out in such a way as to intentionally maximize the prisoner's suffering.

Botched hangings result in strangulation, obstructed blood flow, or beheading. If the prisoner has strong neck muscles, is of light-weight, if the 'drop' is too short, or if the noose is wrongly positioned, the fracture-dislocation will not be rapid and death results from slow asphyxiation. In these botched cases, the prisoner writhes and throttles to death over several minutes. In medical terms - death finally comes from cerebral contusion, shock and asphyxia. There have been reported cases of the rope breaking during the 'drop', which resulted in the prisoner falling to the ground. After government officials' replaced the broken rope the prisoner would again have to endure the emotional and physical torture of being hanged for a second time, usually taking place within the hour. In another reported botched incident, the head of a prisoner split from the body during the hanging.

When a human being is hanged, the face becomes engorged, the tongue protrudes, the mouth vomits and drools, the eyes pop, the body defecates, violent movements of body limbs occur and the face begins to turn a greyish-black. Although the prisoner may appear to be unconscious, the heart does not completely stop beating for some 20 minutes.

Most people do not know that a human heart beats on its own - and continues to do so - even when the rest of the body has shut down. This happens because the human heart is hard-wired with electrical impulses. Therefore, during a phase of some 20 minutes the pulsations of the doomed heart become fainter and slower as the heart struggles to maintain its normal function to pump blood throughout the body, intent on keeping the body alive.

Eventually, the heart lapses into a spasmodic rhythm, then begins to flutter, before it slowly collapses, fails, and finally stops all movement. In medical terms - this is the "true" time of death. The "official" time of death portrayed to the public is deliberately distorted for the obvious reason.

It has been generally assumed that fracture-dislocation of the neck causes instantaneous loss of sensation. Sensory pathways from below the neck may rupture, but the sensory signals from the skin above the noose and from the trigeminal nerve may continue to reach the brain until hypoxia blocks them. The belief that fracture of the spinal cord causes instantaneous death is wrong - whether it causes instantaneous loss of consciousness is actually unknown.

One case of a botched hanging was that of Colin Campbell Ross in Australia. The 29-year-old bar owner was hanged on April 24. 1922 at Melbourne Prison for the rape and murder of a 12-year-old school girl. The new rope used to execute Ross proved to be a failure. The botched hanging was brutal and gruesome. Ross did not die quickly because his spinal cord was fractured, not severed. His windpipe was torn and obstructed by his damaged larynx. Hanging on the rope, Ross continued with rasping breaths and convulsions. He bent his knees and flexed his arms as he battled against the rope as he slowly strangled for more than forty minutes before dying from asphyxiation.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dorina goes on to point out that subsequent evidence indicated that Colin Ross was innocent. If he was innocent, Ross’ execution was most unfortunate indeed. But executions of those who were innocent – a tiny fraction of those condemned to die - does not justify throwing the baby out with the bathwater by abolishing capital punishment.

It is quite obvious that Dorina’s detailed descriptions are designed to turn us off of hanging as a form of execution and I’m sure that she could come up with some stomach-turning descriptions of death by lethal injection in her crusade against the death penalty. However, I am not bothered by the gruesome description she gives of hangings. I know that victims of cold blooded killers often experience horrific suffering while they are being murdered and I think it’s just damn good payback when the murderer also has to suffer before his death.

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