Billy Bailey (1947 – January 25, 1996) was a convicted murderer hanged in Delaware in 1996. He became only the third person to be hanged in the United States since 1965 (the previous two were Charles Rodman Campbell and Westley Allan Dodd, both in Washington) and the first hanged in Delaware in 50 years. He is currently the last person in the United States to be hanged.
Although Bailey had been sentenced to hang, because the method of execution in Delaware had been changed to lethal injection, he had the option of choosing that method. Bailey refused to accept lethal injection, telling a visitor “I’m not going to let them put me to sleep.”
As Delaware had not carried out a hanging in 50 years, it sought advice from corrections officials at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington, where hangings had recently been performed.
The wooden gallows was built in the grounds of the Delaware Correctional Center at Smyrna in 1996, as Bailey’s execution date approached. The structure required renovation and strengthening before Bailey could be executed on it. The platform housing the trap door is 15 feet (4.6 m) from the ground and is accessed by 23 steps.
Delaware used an execution protocol written by now-discredited Holocaust denier Fred Leuchter. This specifies the use of 30 feet (9.1 m) of 0.75-inch (19 mm) diameter Manila hemp rope, boiled to take out stretch and any tendency to coil. The area of the rope sliding inside the knot was lubricated with melted paraffin wax to allow it to slide freely. A black hood is specified by the protocol, as is a sandbag to test the trap door and a “collapse board” to which a prisoner can be strapped if necessary.
The day before, Bailey was weighed as 220 lb (100 kg). and the drop was determined to be at around 5 feet (1.5 m).
Bailey was moved from his prison cell to a trailer close to the gallows in preparation for the execution. There he spent his last 24 hours sleeping, eating, watching television, talking with staff, and meeting with his fifty-three-year-old sister, Betty Odom; the prison chaplain; and his attorney.
For his last meal, he requested a well-done steak, a baked potato with sour cream and butter, buttered rolls, peas, and vanilla ice cream.
The gallows in Delaware was later dismantled in 2003, because in that year none of its death row inmates remained eligible to choose hanging over lethal injection. Only the states of Washington and New Hampshire still permit the hanging method of execution as of 2013.