Delaware holds first hanging since 1946

Inmate's decision stirs controversy

January 25, 1996
Web posted at: 1:10 a.m. EST

From Correspondent Gary Tuchman

SMYRNA, Delaware (CNN) -- Convicted double-murderer Billy Bailey was executed early Thursday in Delaware. Bailey drew a lot of attention because of the method he chose: death by hanging.

The Lambertson's

Only a few hundred people live in the tiny town of Cheswold, Delaware. Two of them used to live in a modest home where they grew corn and soybeans, and, more importantly, raised children and grandchildren.

Clara and Gilbert Lambertson were 73 and 80 years old, respectively, when a man named Billy Bailey came into their lives and then ended their lives.

"This was a heinous crime against innocent people. They were elderly, in their own home. They did not know Billy Bailey. He simply intruded and took their lives in a vicious manner," said Delaware Deputy Attorney General Paul Wallace.

Billy Baily

Bailey, 49, was convicted of shooting the Lambertsons to death 17 years ago.

Bailey's was the third hanging execution in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976.

It was the first hanging in Delaware since 1946. Hanging as capital punishment is allowed in just three other states: Montana, New Hampshire, and Washington.

'Things can really go wrong'

In Delaware's largest city, Wilmington, they rang a bell to protest hanging and the death penalty in general. The protesters are among some who consider hanging cruel and unusual punishment.

Edmund Lyons

"If you drop a man too far you can actually decapitate him. If you don't drop him far enough, you will break his neck, and he'll strangle to death slowly, kicking at the end of the rope," said Bailey's attorney, Edmund Lyons.

The two-story wooden gallows is outdoors on the grounds of the Delaware Correctional Center in Smyrna, where heavy rains were forecast for Wednesday night. The 220-pound Bailey was escorted up 19 steps to a platform, where an unidentified staff member in a black hood served as hangman.

Delaware inmates have the option of dying by lethal injection, but Bailey chose the other method.

"I think that it has a bad image because things can really go wrong. There is no doubt, hanging is not 100 percent certain. Nothing is," Wallace said.

Victims' son: 'We finally got him'

Delbert Lambertson

What is certain is the anger and depression that Delbert Lambertson, 70, and Saxton Lambertson, 68, have experienced. They are two of the victims' four children, and had planned to be among the witnesses to the execution.

"It's something that I think I'm obligated to do on behalf of my father and mother. That's the way I feel. When we see this happen, I can say to my mom and dad, we finally got him," Delbert Lambertson said.


Delaware corrections officials make it clear that they prefer lethal injection to hanging, one reason being that they're out of practice. When it comes to experienced practitioners, the condemned man's attorney may have put it best when he said, "It's not as if you can look in the yellow pages under 'h' for hangman."

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