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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 24, No. 15. 1961.

Is it you to Judge?

page 6

Is it you to Judge?

execution by hanging

Take the position of, say, Sweeney, had his sentence not been commuted. Section 9 of the Crimes Act, 1908, reads: "Where any person is condemned to death the sentence shall be that such a person shall be taken to a place of execution and there be hanged by the neck until he is dead."

The condemned man will be treated kindly. Two janus-like warders will keep him company day and night. Partly to stop him anticipating his own demise with suicide, and partly to keep him company. He is given the best medical treatment, he must be in good physical shape for the occasion. He goes on a hospital diet; beer and tobacco are permitted. He may play cards or dominoes with his two shadow-like warders. Reading material is also extensive. He must be well fed and contented for the occasion.

On the morning of the execution the prisoner is taken for his last walk in the open air. The hangman will secretly observe him, to get an idea of his looks, height, weight and any peculiarities. For the convict is in the hands of an artist. (Despite his lack of practice). The Master of a dying craft. The demise of the prisoner will be as aesthetically satisfying as the death of a bull at a corrida.

Above the twin trapdoor mechanism of the gallows, is a beam to which an adjustable chain is attached. To this is fastened a three-foot length of rope. By means of an official table to correlate the length of drop with height and weight, the hangman makes any modifications necessary for physique and adjusts the chain. The rope is fitted to the chain and looped, the loop being secured by a piece of packthread which will be broken by the prisoner's weight.

The execution is rehearsed.

Then the hangman and two other officers enter the cell. The arms of the ill-fated man are pinioned behind his back with straps. Then with priest proceeding, and an officer on either side he is escorted to the execution chamber. The local sheriff, the governor and the medical officer of the prison enter. The victim is led to a white spot marked on the division between the trapdoors. His head is covered with a white cap and his legs are strapped together. The rope is placed over his head and around his neck. The knot is the secret. It is placed under the prisoner's left lower jaw. When he falls it finishes under the chin. It throws the chin back. It dislocates the spinal vertebrae. Should it be placed under the right lower jaw it finishes up at the back of the neck and results in strangulation. But the executioner is reliable. He places the rope correctly and with a flick of the switch the trapdoors yawn, the packthread breaks and there is a slight thud. There is no movement or twitching with a good executioner.

The body is cut down and an inquest held over it.

The body is buried eight hours after the execution.

You have flicked the switch just as much as the hangman. It is You who have presumed to judge. May God have mercy on his soul.