Dodd Hanged

WALLA WALLA - The lawyer who fought to help Westley Allan Dodd die said Dodd asked forgiveness - and showed some - in his last few hours of life.

"I saw a religious belief and I saw remorse which I consider valid," said Darrell Lee, who spent three hours with the admitted child-killer before Dodd's execution at 12:05 this morning.

"For the first time ever . . . he asked forgiveness, but he also made it clear he did not expect any," Lee said.

Dodd, 31, who confessed to killing three boys in the Vancouver, Wash., and Portland areas in 1989, was pronounced dead at 12:09 a.m. He chose hanging over lethal injection because he had hanged one of his victims.

At his attorney's suggestion, Dodd last night signed a new will, scrapping a document that would have turned his cremated remains over to a woman from Nashville, Tenn., who says she fell in love with Dodd while writing to him in prison.

Instead, Dodd specified that his remains be given to his sister and a private memorial service be arranged by the prison chaplain.

Lee felt the earlier plan stemmed from Dodd's desire to strike back at his family, particularly his father, for what Dodd called a lack of love while he was growing up.

"He has forgiven his father," Lee said.

Lee, who once said Dodd was "probably the most heinous criminal ever to exist in the state of Washington," said the admitted killer went to his death in peace.

"He was probably more calm about this than anybody in this room," Lee told reporters after the execution.

Lee's statements, reported on television, were the first word Dodd's relatives had that he had changed his mind about his remains.

"This is what we need to close the book," Mary Dodd, wife of Dodd's brother, Greg, told The Seattle Times in a telephone interview early today.

Mary Dodd said last night was a time of intense pain, loss, anger - and hope of relief - for the Dodd family.

"We hated what he did," she said, "but he was still a part of us, a part of our lives, and we can't forget that.

"In a lot of ways, we feel relief that it's over and that he got what he wanted and he doesn't have to fight anymore."

But she said the family was hurt and angered that they had to learn of Dodd's death by television, rather than receiving any official notice from the prison.

Twelve members of the news media witnessed the execution, the first in Washington since 1963 and the first hanging in the U.S. since 1965. Dodd was the 74th person executed in Washington state.

The media witnesses generally described Dodd's death as quick and efficient, unlike the grisly display capital-punishment opponents, including the American Civil Liberties Union, had predicted.

The witnesses complained that Dodd's last words were difficult to make out because of problems with the prison's microphone system.

The media witnesses, as a group, recreated what they believe were Dodd's last words:

"I was once asked by somebody, I don't remember who, if there was any way sex offenders could be stopped. I said, `No.' I was wrong. I was wrong when I said, `There was no hope, no peace.' There is hope; there is peace. I found both in the Lord Jesus Christ. I urge everyone: Look to the Lord and you will find peace."

Two parents of Dodd's murder victims, allowed to witness the execution, were clearly uncomfortable with Dodd's claim to have found hope and peace in Jesus Christ, witnesses said.

Some said Clair Neer, father of victims William and Cole Neer, ages 10 and 11, hissed and shook his head at Dodd's religious reference. Other witnesses said Jewell Cornell, Lee Iseli's mother, appeared relieved and satisfied after watching the death.

In accordance with the penitentiary's plan, the 12 news witnesses shared their observations with other reporters afterward.

"There was no sign of a struggle . . . it was very quick and certainly not the gruesome process you've heard and read about," said Joe Hart of KNDU-TV in Kennewick.

Other witnesses concurred they saw no sign of suffering.

But Michael Rollins, a reporter for The Portland Oregonian, said he was reluctant to join in anything that might be considered an endorsement of hanging.

"The fact is it was a homicide, albeit a legal one," he said, adding that there was some slight movement of the body after it hit the end of the rope. "You could see the life leave him, and I found that kind of grotesque."

Prison spokesman Veltry Johnson said Dodd was brought to a holding cell in the execution facility at 4:40 p.m. He gave no indication of wanting to stop the execution, Johnson said.

For the traditional last meal, Dodd said he wanted only what the prison's general population had: salmon, scalloped potatoes, mixed vegetables and coleslaw.

Alice Olson, a friend of Dodd's who once lived with him and tried to help him with his problem, said after the execution that she sat glued to the television set in her Kennewick home.

"I just did some praying and, you know, I'll miss him," Olson said.

"Intellectually, you know it's true. It will take a while for the emotions to catch up. . . . I had been praying it would be quick, and it sounds as if it was. It was his decision; I support him as his friend."

State Attorney General Ken Eikenberry said the execution represented the "culmination of a couple of years of work," and he was relieved at the way the process was completed.

"The manner was very clinical. It certainly didn't back up any of the flamboyant claims being made by the ACLU," Eikenberry said.

Kathleen Mix, assistant attorney general for the state corrections division, said the execution was tragic but went precisely as intended.

"It was a very humane proceeding, very professionally carried out by the staff of the Washington State Penitentiary," she said.

Timothy Ford, a Seattle attorney who had made a plea before the state Supreme Court yesterday to stop the execution, said he would have no comment on the execution.

Dodd's execution came just 10 hours after the court refused to block the hanging as cruel and unusual punishment.

Chief Justice Fred Dore said Dodd's willingness to be hanged for his crimes was key to the high court's 7-1 decision. "We think he has a right to make a choice," said Dore, "and we should honor that."

But in a stinging 13-page dissent, Justice Bob Utter said hanging is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual. "The rejection of hanging by almost all states besides our own indicates a growing recognition that hanging is a gruesome and inhumane method of execution," said Utter.

Earlier yesterday, Ford had tried to convince the justices that Dodd's willingness to hang should not negate the state's responsibility to find it an unlawfully torturous punishment. Ford argued that his medical experts found death does not always come quickly and painlessly in hangings.

But Assistant Attorney General Mix disagreed, asserting that her experts found the hanging would result in swift unconsciousness and certain death. "In the time it takes me to speak this sentence, he will be rendered unconscious," Mix told the justices.

Later in the day yesterday, in Thurston County Superior Court, Judge Richard Strophy turned down a request by the taxpayers to tape the execution, but he did grant them the right to have a witness at the execution. He also ordered that Dodd's autopsy be photographed, that the state record the length of time it took for Dodd to die, and that the curtain separating the witnesses from the gallows not be closed until all movement by Dodd ceased.

"This will provide the necessary preservation of evidence," said Strophy.

Meanwhile, a federal appeals court in San Francisco yesterday refused to let another Washington death-row inmate, Charles Campbell, videotape Dodd's execution.

In 2-1 decision, Judges Cynthia Holcomb Hall and Edward Leavy, upheld last week's ruling by Seattle U.S. District Judge John Coughenour turning down Campbell's request.

Campbell was convicted of murdering two women and an 8-year-old girl in Snohomish County in 1982. Campbell has argued that Washington's death-penalty law amounts to cruel and unusual punishment because it forces a prisoner to "aid in the method of his own demise" by choosing lethal injection to avoid the more frightening prospect of hanging.

At midday yesterday, the state Clemency and Pardons Board turned down a request that it ask Gov. Booth Gardner to stop the execution. Acting on a petition from two church groups, the board unanimously decided not to recommend commuting Dodd's sentence.

For more than two years, Dodd fought to get himself executed, swimming against the current in a system designed to provide a condemned inmate several chances to appeal.

He pleaded guilty to the three killings shortly after his 1989 arrest, once he realized detectives would search his apartment, find his diary and learn the terrible truth.

As Clark County jurors considered Dodd's fate, Dodd refused to allow his trial lawyer to bring any witness on his behalf.

Faced with three gruesome killings and no hint of a reason to excuse them, jurors unanimously sentenced Dodd to die.

When two court-appointed attorneys lodged an appeal for Dodd with the state Supreme Court, Dodd sent hand-written letters to his trial judge and to the state Supreme Court, saying he should be executed as soon as possible.

In a threatening tone, Dodd told Supreme Court justices if the state failed to kill him, they would all be accomplices in his next murder.

In a competency hearing, Dodd spoke clearly and calmly about his desire to be hanged.

He repeated the same themes in his interviews with reporters and again Nov. 30 as Clark County Superior Court Judge Robert Harris signed Dodd's death warrant.

Some doubted his sincerity. Bob Iseli of Portland, father of one victim, said in 1991 he felt Dodd's stance was a ploy designed to prolong the killer's life, not end it.

"He's just doing this to throw a curve at the system," Iseli said then. "Anytime you throw it a curve, you slow it down."

A psychologist who had examined Dodd also doubted Dodd's death wish was genuine, predicting Dodd would be loath to give up the power and satisfaction he got from media exposure.

Some death-penalty opponents, until recently, clung to the hope that Dodd might change his mind, as some condemned killers have done, and begin a last-minute appeal that would almost have certainly delayed his execution.

Among those who viewed Dodd's desire as genuine was Tacoma police Officer Mark Mann, who had attended high school with Dodd in the Tri-Cities. Mann spoke several times with Dodd after his arrest in an attempt to learn more about sexual predators.

"Right now he's in control and that's what he wants," Mann said last fall. "But if he changes his mind and decides to appeal, he knows he'll never be in control again."

Dodd's body has been brought to the King County medical examiner's office in Seattle. Medical Examiner Dr. Donald Reay is expected to perform the autopsy.

More than 2,600 inmates reportedly are on death rows across the country.

-- Times staff reporters Susan Gilmore, Peter Lewis, Peyton Whitely and Kate Shatzkin contributed to this report.