Execution by Hanging

tyburn1Marriage doesn’t always work out. For Tom and Sarah Wilford, it really didn’t work out: within a week Tom had stabbed Sarah to death. Since he didn’t do this in Chicago in 2016, he didn’t have the ACLU to run interference with him; he did it in London in 1752, and he was tried, convicted, sentenced and hanged with the sort of vigor Britons brought to these kinds of things in Victorian days.

Laws having recently been reformed, Tom was spared the indignity of gibbeting after his hanging. They had another indignity in mind, as the Court made clear:

Thomas Wilford, you stand convicted of the horrid and unnatural crime of murdering Sarah, your wife. This Court doth adjudge that you be taken back to the place from whence you came, and there to be fed on bread and water till Wednesday next, when you are to be taken to the common place of execution, and there hanged by the neck until you are dead; after which your body is to be publicly dissected and anatomised, agreeable to an Act of Parliament in that case made and provided; and may God Almighty have mercy on your soul.

via History of British judicial hanging.

Tom was duly hanged at Tyburn, where the authorities had erected a three-sided gallows in an attempt to deal with the essential problem of hanging, for a society with a long list of undesirables to dispose of on any given day: hanging’s low throughput. After the hanging, Tom became an anatomical training aid for novice doctors, which was the usual disposition of a condemned man’s mortal remains; it’s not as if a consecrated cemetery would take them.

When you got sentenced to death in 18th Century London, they didn’t stooge about with appeals: you were dancing the Tyburn Jig two days after sentencing, unless you were fortunate enough to be sentenced on a Friday; then, they’d hold you over for Monday rather than profane the Sabbath with you.

tyburn tree

That website, Capital Punishment UK, has quite a few interesting tales of the highway robbers and pickpockets who got to dance the air jig, along with the murderers who now monopolize the extreme judicial sanction in most nations.  It also has a great deal of information on the practical application of hanging. How far does a 125 lb. person have to drop for a good clean neck-snap? A table there will tell you. You never know when a fact like that is an essential ingredient in mission accomplishment.

The death penalty in practice, at least in Georgian times, had a safety valve. Perpetrators of property crimes normally would have their death sentence commuted to transportation. (Murderers? They hung. Why ship that kind of problem to a colony to deal with?) One famous woman pickpocket was transported, but wound up hanged because she came back and resumed her prior trade. (The penalty, in fact, for returning from transportation was… death by hanging). Women were somewhat uncommon guests on the gallows, then and always. Violent and career crime is now, and was then, primarily a guy thing, despite feminists’ efforts to get their Fair Share of every profession.

It’s our firm belief that it is the duty of a healthy society to excise its human cancer cells, and that a robust and rapid death penalty is one means to that end. This is not an idea that has had any currency among the British elite for fifty years or more, and one that is nearly as outré among American bien-pensants. But no good has come of death penalty abolition, or even the sort of death penalty obstruction that is the coin of such murder groupies as the Atheist Criminal Lovers’ Union.

The death penalty is not cruel or unusual, and, indeed, it is the only humane response to barbarism and depravity.

30 thoughts on “Execution by Hanging

  1. Red

    Agreed, wholeheartedly.

    Last paragraph seems to be incomplete, “…response to barbarism and”.

      1. archy

        You really need to follow this up with a comparison to an execution effected under American jurisprudence. I would suggest a review of the crime, court proceedings and execution, also by hanging, of one Big Mary at Erwin, Tennessee, circa 1916.

  2. Keith

    Any thoughts on the recent spike of death row offenders getting released based on DNA evidence.

    1. LSWCHP

      I’m in two minds about the death penalty. There are many cases, like the child abuse cases featured here on WM where I’d pull the trigger and whistle while I worked.

      On the other hand, there’s a famous Australian case where one of our most senior federal cops (Google for Colin Winchester….ironic name) was murdered gangland style in his driveway. A local loony was eventually convicted on pretty thin forensic evidence and put in the slammer for something like 20 years.

      Now, this dude is a violent and crazy man and should undoubtedly be in jail or some other secure place, but the forensic evidence has since been discredited and he’s been released. If we’d executed him, we may have dropped the right guy, or maybe not. In the latter case an innocent man is killed by the state, and a murderer sits at the bar laughing.

      I guess I’m saying there should be a higher standard of evidence to support a death penalty. Something like “We arrested this guy while he was robbing shops with swords, knives and cleavers and here’s the videos yeronner”. I’d be good with that.

    2. Hognose Post author

      Keith, you have raised the one true objection to the DP, to wit, that our justice system is not sufficiently reliable. We’ve seen cases like that of Illinois where the then-governor, George Ryan, commuted all death sentences after seeing evidence that as many as half the wretches on Death Row were excluded by DNA evidence.

      Three things lead to this, two technical and one that is baked into our adversarial system of justice:

      1. weakness of human memory and eyewitness ID. It’s super convincing to juries, but memory doesn’t work the way that people assume it works (and that science believed it worked for millennia). Memory’s highly subjective and variable! That makes that convinced eyewitness actually evidentiarily weak, but the courts have not caught up with that at all. (How do you?)
      2. general weakness of forensic “science” (scare quotes definitely intended). Now, most of America believes in perfect forensic science, thanks to mythmaking television shows. (Also a surprise to the public: investigators and crime-scene and lab techs tend not to be gorgeous. Who knew?) In seriousness, this breaks down into three problems: 1. The science just falls short of what’s claimed for it; 2. some labs are corrupt because of laziness or backlog; 3. All labs work for the investigators and prosecution and bring a bias to their work.
        Example of imperfect science: I’ve never seen or heard of a crime lab that could pass a double-blind test on same-caliber same-lot ammo out of Glock or HK hammer-forged polygonal barrels, but they testify to 100% matches. All. The. Time. They’re lying on the stand and no attorney has the savvy to call them on it (or the money to get an expert to give them a double-blind test, even if the lab would agree, which absolutely 100% of labs know better than to do). Take a few slugs that you and buddies shot from random Glocks and put them on the scope yourself, you’ll see what I mean… the guy who goes to jail is the one the investigators like for the case who has the same make gun, and that’s as far as the match goes.
        Example II: find the National Academy of Sciences report on forensic science. They are very, very moderate in their conclusions (too moderate).
        Example of corruption: google “FBI Lab Scandal.” Allow some time for reading. Google “MA Crime Lab scandal.” Note the similarities in the cases. In the MA case, hundreds of criminals wound up released, and a lab employee went to jail in their place. ISTR there was a similar cock-up in California.
        The we’re-all-in-the-same-boat bias is more subtle. But it’s not science if they know the sample is important and what’s it for, and if they are working for the same end as the cops.
      3. and that’s really what the third major issue is, already hinted at above. If you were to use a process engineer’s Ishikawa diagram or failure tree to see how Tyquan wound up getting the needle when Cleofus really killed the whole family, you’d see that at critical points along the timeline of the case, minds closed and options were closed off. The witness picked Tyquan out of a pick-six. Witness #2 said that Tyquan said the victim cheated him on drugs and he was gonna F him up. The slug was too jacked up to match, but Tyquan’s gun was the same caliber. The killer had Size 14 Air Jordans, so does Ty. (Funny we didn’t find any blood on ’em). And Tyquan went on the run to his cousin’s in Georgia, right after the shooting, and the Marshals had to bring him back. Bang, there’s enough right there; even a Baltimore jury would probably convict Tyquan, and he was sleeping off a few forties at the time of the kiling, but unfortunately alone.

      How could somebody screw up like that? Humans. It’s what we do.

      Tyquan’s probably a turd, and the world’s probably better off without him, but he’s not guilty in this one particular instance.

      So how do we prevent this kind of miscarriage of justice? We can’t, entirely, which is something no one connected with the system dares to say. That’s why the FAA never says they envision a day when half as many people die in plane crashes as do now… they have been talking about “zero” for ever, and yet everyone who actually works the issue knows that “zero” is a PR goal, not a real one. The only true path to zero erroneous convictions is zero convictions. Seriously. Just like the way to have zero airplane deaths is to ground all airplanes.

      But there are things we could do. I wonder if the labs would work better if they were responsible to the courts. They definitely would work better if every single sample they saw was double-blinded to the point where the tech has no idea of the significance of the technical job he or she is doing. But that might not be practical or affordable.

  3. DSM

    “I’m in two minds about the death penalty.”

    Yes. When there’s irrefutable evidence, sure, and would show up to work early and leave late without charging it on the time card. Then I see how the government can’t even, say for example, figure out how to effectively run a tax program, which is for its own benefit after all, then to be given more power to a system of law easily corrupted by the vanity of the people looking to further their own means.

    1. Boat Guy

      …to the gallows? Good idea.
      Gotta split some language hairs here. People are/were “hanged” whether they are/were “hung” or not is immaterial.

      1. Mike_C

        >immaterial
        Not to Lili VonShtupp it isn’t. (“Oh, it’s twue. It’s twue. It’s twue, it’s twue!”)

        More seriously, I can’t equate Death Penalty with Capital Punishment. Seems to me the point of any punishment is to influence future behavior, specifically, to deter bad behavior. But there isn’t any lesson learned when the malfeasor is dead. (Issues of pour encourager les autres aside.) Loss of one’s life as a penalty for a sufficiently horrendous crime, however, I can get behind. Or am I hung (hanged?) up on semantics?

        As to the whole “organlegger” thing:
        1. A solid-organ transplant is no panacea. Between all the antirejection medications (and their very nontrivial side effects) and other stuff one has to put up with, yes it beats dying, but sometimes not by much. (Bear in mind my sample is very skewed in terms of who I see.)
        2. That said, bidness is doubtless good in the PRC.

  4. Lt Rowan

    Agree on the increased standard of proof. The absolute punishment requires absolute guilt, not beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Have used the human cancer cells metaphor myself.

  5. DSM

    On another note, hanging may have been perfectly acceptable for the harvesting of cadavers for the medical enlightenment of the day but it’s not that great for the harvesting of organs for transplant. The bullet is the only current method that would allow it, provided the site of execution was within reasonable distance from the facility equipped to do so. Hippocrates might have something to say about that, but, whatever, it’d save someone’s life that was worth saving.

    1. redc1c4

      not sure we want to go there… look up “organ bank problem” as referenced in Larry Niven’s “Known Space” series of books.

      i’d poast a link, but getting moderated is a PITA. ;-)

      1. DSM

        Interesting. The assumption is that the organ transplant ability has reached the point to extend life to the edge of immortality. My counter to that is, currently, putting a 20 year old man’s heart into an 80 year old man does not reset the clock, so to speak, as the body is a collection of systems. Replace everything then? Worth a shot, but it’d require gene therapy hitherto not developed to suppress what can’t be replaced. Once you’ve identified that “death gene” and learned to disable it then transplant wouldn’t be needed, the organs could perpetually heal themselves. Also assuming you could treat the eventual increase of cancer.
        Very interesting and thought provoking. Ethics are defined by the time and place of the question so it’d be an interesting prospect to pose the same questions along a timeline and see how, and if, they change.

  6. redc1c4

    i’m sure the death penalty would be more popular with the Left if it was described as “very late term abortion”…

    1. Hognose Post author

      As kids, Mom (RIP) used to threaten me and the Blogbrother with “Rebortion,” which she explained was “Retroactive Abortion” and a mother’s prerogative. We may not have believed her but we usually tightened up our act!

  7. Bill T

    Biblically, There are established methods to be followed before a death penalty can be carried out.
    Num_35:30 Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die.
    Deu_17:6 At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.
    Deu_19:15 One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.

    We would be much better off id we followed these practices. We would not have “The Criminal Justice System” Inc. with the prison system the biggest growth industry in the economy. With the worst criminals running the jails and prisons.

    Soapbox stowed…There is plenty scriptural insight for the person who will look for it. If you are not going to look for it no one can tell you about it.

    In short: There is Biblical instruction for the death penalty and lesser crimes too.

    1. Omhguy

      If we are going to get all old testament, we have to bring back the death penalty for false witness.

  8. Stacy0311

    With all of the flaws of the judicial system in producing death sentences, occasionally the system works.
    Kenneth McDuff (IMO) is the ultimate poster child for the death penalty.
    Convicted and sentenced to death, commuted to life in prison when death penalty was ruled unconstitutional.
    Paroled due to human failings (parole board members were bribed)
    Murdered again (repeatedly)
    Finally got the needle.

    On the other hand, Henry Lee Lucas was the poster child for over zealous prosecution

  9. Sommerbiwak

    To add to the polygonal barrels leaving few traces, the regular rifled barrels are not 100% reliably identifiable as well. The “science” of finger prints is just as shaky. These methods can give a clue for further investigation or exclude suspects, but to base a trial and conviction only on that is thin at best. All in my very humble opinion as trained chemist and firearms dilletante/enthusiast.

    Hey just had an idea: reload used bullets to really fubar the traces of rifling!

    To the biased lab problem: shouldn’t an anonymous
    sample like a bullet sent to an external lab, best in another town, even outside the state be enough to obscure which case it is for? I mean one 9mm bullet is like the other and each case is then just an anonymous number. How should the lab connect that? Of course not all tests can be done in a lab, for some things they have to hit the crime scene.

  10. ToastieTheCoastie

    It’s surprising that an enterprising lawyer hasn’t went after the ballistics labs for matching bullets to firearms. That would be yuuuuuge. Think of how many people have been convicted with that evidence.

    I’m not “execution happy.” We have an ability to imprison people that we didn’t even 100 years ago. Should someone be executed for killing a man in a bar fight? For stealing a car? There are some crimes that are so terrible, like murders and rape (as rape is traditionally understood) that absolutely demand the death penalty.

  11. Aesop

    Bring back the Chateau D’If.
    If we’re not going to execute most of the ones who should rate it anymore (and based on the evidence, we’re not) simply throw them into a hole, and slide food through a slit in the door until one day the plate stays untouched.
    Then over the wall and into the sea with cinder block spurs.
    I’d happily pay for sixty years of gruel for one of the bozos so sentenced. No TV, no library, no weight pile, no parole, no visits, just two platters of subsistence until Nature takes a hand.

    If someone on the outside cares to pursue proving they didn’t do it, all well and good.

    The ones who confess, and for whom the number of confirmatory witnesses are legion?
    Monday morning necktie party.

  12. gwood

    ” Just like the way to have zero airplane deaths is to ground all airplanes.”
    In regards to General Aviation, I’m pretty sure that’s the FAA’s plan.

    1. Hognose Post author

      I often think the largest single office in the FAA is the Office of Aviation Inhibition. Fully staffed and very active!

  13. Tom Kratman

    Indeed. I am at least contemplating leaving the church over the Pope’s idiocy.

    However, we really should execute all common law felons: Notable among these, robbers, burglars, rapists, murderers, arsonists, and a few more. You cannot win a war on crime when your chief punishment is to send people to long courses in more effective criminal behavior, followed by release for practical application. For that matter you can’t even have a decent police force when crime makes you overexpand it to include all kinds of people who should never have been entrusted with a badge.

    Then, too, this sort of crime is serious and dangerous enough to amount to renunciation of the social contract. Why we should respect a right to life in someone who has renounced the social contract in such a dangerous way eludes me.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Well, law ought to have a malum in se basis, and in any case where the basic facts do not reveal intent, proof of intent should be a burden of the prosecution. Sure, that would undermine that great oxymoron, Administrative Law, but I see a feature, not a bug, in that.

      1. Tom Kratman

        Yes, but note that common law felonies are a special class of malum in se.

        However, speaking of, there was a guy, somewhere here in Virginia, IIRC, who was sent to prison for 18 months about 24-25 years ago, over digging a large hole on his own property. Seems it violated some EPA reg or other.

        Any number of EPA Fascisti should have hanged over that, even if not a common law felony.

    2. archy

      ***Indeed. I am at least contemplating leaving the church over the Pope’s idiocy.***

      You might consider Orthodoxy instead. Pretty much the same theology, but a better class of clergy and church politicians. There were enough variations between Greek, Coptic, Russian and Serbian Orthodox for my interest to become instructive, and learning the Mass and responses in a new language helps keep me off the streets.

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