Campbell Hanged -- Campbell Hanged -- Death Comes Quickly After Dozen Years Of Struggle

WALLA WALLA - The execution that 12 jurors ordered a dozen years ago was carried out today a few minutes after midnight as Charles Rodman Campbell was hanged at the Washington State Penitentiary.

Campbell, described by prison officials as too weak with fear to walk to the gallows, offered no final words and appeared to die almost instantaneously.

Family members of Campbell's victims said today there was no joy in the hanging, simply a sense of closure and relief.

"A long, tortuous ordeal has come to a close," said Lorene Ahlers Iverson, sister of victim Renae Wicklund. "We can go to sleep at night knowing Charles Campbell can never come out of prison to kill again."

Iverson, who witnessed the execution, said the family endured "12 long years during which a mockery has been made of the criminal-justice system."

At 12:08 this morning, the 223-pound Campbell, who had to be assisted by corrections officers as he was led to his execution, dropped 5 feet, 7 inches to his death. There were no stays or other legal actions to halt his hanging. He offered no last words. Campbell, 39, was pronounced dead at 12:14 a.m.

His body was brought to Seattle this morning for an autopsy to be performed by the King County Medical Examiner.

Shortly after midnight, corrections officers escorted Campbell the short distance from his cell to the execution area. He had to be assisted.

"This man was facing death and it was because of his own emotions. He was faint," said prison spokesperson Elaine Harris.

Campbell was strapped to a board and his wrists and ankles were bound. He was then brought into the execution chamber.

Witnesses said it appeared there were difficulties at a few points just before Campbell dropped to his death, although they disagreed whether he was struggling against the officers.

"It is extremely clinical, extremely fast," said Thom Spencer of KVEW-42 television in Kennewick. "If you want to tag it that way, very professionally done."

Screen obscured proceedings

Much of the proceedings were partially obscured by a screen. The arrangement was similar to that for Westley Allan Dodd, the child-killer who was hanged in January 1993. But Dodd had made a final statement, unhooded, before the screen was drawn.

Campbell was sentenced to die for the 1982 murders of Wicklund, 31, her daughter, Shannah, 8, and a neighbor, Barbara Hendrickson, 51, in Clearview, Snohomish County.

Victims' family members who witnessed Campbell's execution did not appear to react, media witnesses said.

Dawson, who was not the prosecutor when Campbell was convicted, said the victims' family members appeared relieved after the execution and remarked that they had been waiting 12 years for the hanging and it "would be a major turning point in their recovery."

Dawson also spoke with Campbell's attorney, James Lobsenz, before the hanging. He congratulated Lobsenz for waging a spirited defense.

Lobsenz, who did not speak with reporters, was visibly upset, witnesses said.

In midafternoon yesterday, when officers went to take Campbell from his cell in the prison's Intensive Management Unit to the holding cell near the execution chamber, he was lying on the floor and wouldn't respond to commands to be handcuffed, according to prison officials.

Officers used pepper spray to subdue him, cuffed him and transported him to the holding cell.

Contraband taken from cell

Items that were described as contraband were confiscated from his cell - two nails, a small spring, a bolt and a short piece of metal that prison officers said clearly had been secreted in a body cavity. The items were found in Campbell's bedding and probably were brought to the cell some time ago, officials said.

After being placed in the holding cell, Campbell asked for stamps and writing material but did not use them, according to Corrections Department spokesman Veltry Johnson.

Although Washington has two forms of execution - hanging and lethal injection - prison officials decided last night there was no option other than hanging Campbell because he had refused to choose between the two, Johnson said.

Campbell met with the mother of his son, Judith Dirks, and his son yesterday morning, Johnson said. Campbell indicated that he wanted his personal effects and his body to go to Dirks.

Campbell was served a final meal of fish sticks, tossed green salad, scalloped potatoes and a cherry tart but he did not eat it, Johnson said.

`If anyone deserved the death penalty . . .'

Campbell was the first person in Washington in 30 years to be executed against his will. Dodd was hanged with his consent at the penitentiary last year.

"Justice was long in coming, but at last the sentence order by the people of Washington for Charles Campbell has been carried out," Attorney General Chris Gregoire said in a prepared statement.

"The death penalty is not something to be taken lightly and should be reserved for only the most heinous crimes," Gregoire said. "If anyone deserved the death penalty, it was Charles Campbell."

Royce Ferguson, Campbell's first defense attorney in the murder trial, this month wrote his former client a final note.

"You don't want to say goodbye, because then the guy might give up what little hope he has," said Ferguson, 45. "But it was a way, for me, to end it. Kind of a no-hard-feelings letter, without saying `Hey, you're a dead man.' "

Campbell called Ferguson last week, but Ferguson was in a court hearing and missed the call.

Seth "Aaron" Fine, a Snohomish County deputy prosecutor who argued against Campbell's appeals in state courts, said today, "It's over, in a way, and it's not over. I think those of us who have been involved in this will never forget it."

For much of the day outside the prison, death-penalty opponents outnumbered those who had come in support of the hanging. As the execution drew near, however, many more came out to support Campbell's execution.

Corrections officers searched incoming vehicles for guns, explosives, alcohol and rope, and frisked those coming into the area. They turned back a number of vehicles.

Shadows mixed with demonstrators in both camps, separated by fences placed roughly 90 feet apart. As death-penalty opponents lit candles and held moments of silence every half-hour, many of those supporting the hanging were more festive.

Among those who waited for that moment was Albert Weivoda, 77, of Bellingham. He was the first person to enter the gated area marked "PRO," for those who supported the execution.

"If they (death-penalty protesters) are against capital punishment, they may be signing their own death warrant," he said, as he shifted a large plywood sign that said: "If you were to be this killer's next victim, would you let this killer live, so that he could kill you?"

Death-penalty foes feel dehumanized

Among those opposing the hanging was Jeanette Star, who heads the Death Row support committee for the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

The 26-year-old West Seattle resident exchanged letters with Campbell for about two months, and spoke with him for 40 minutes Saturday, she said.

The two did not talk too much about "the event," as she remembered he referred to the execution. They talked about her work on the committee, which includes corresponding with all the men on Washington's death row.

"I feel very strongly about this message of peace and that we're all dehumanized by this execution," she said. She added that Campbell's portrayal in the media has shown him as less than human. She pointed to a detailed rose that he had drawn on a letter he sent to her as evidence that he can leave "something beautiful" behind.

In Seattle last night, about 60 people gathered in a dimly lit sanctuary at St. Mark's Cathedral to reflect on their opposition to the death penalty.

The vigil, organized by the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, featured several religious leaders and lasted until midnight with prayer and songs.

One surprise development in the days leading up to Campbell's execution was the face-to-face meeting between Gov. Mike Lowry and Campbell at the penitentiary Tuesday night.

"The governor wanted to hear directly from Mr. Campbell what his circumstances were," said Lowry press secretary Anne Fennessy, who said the meeting lasted less than a half-hour.

The meeting was disclosed shortly before yesterday's announcement that Lowry declined to use his executive power to block the execution and commute Campbell's sentence to life in prison.

In the last days of his life, Campbell filed a flurry of legal actions from state trial court to the nation's highest court and came up short each time.

Coughenour turned down appeal

If a door was left open to Campbell, U.S. District Judge John Coughenour of Seattle slammed it shut yesterday afternoon. Coughenour, hearing Campbell's fourth federal petition, refused to halt the execution and told higher federal courts they should ignore any appeals as "plainly frivolous."

In 1989, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay 33 hours before Campbell was to be executed.

Campbell had asked Coughenour to stay the execution on grounds that previous lawyers had failed to argue that his punishment didn't fit the crime. Coughenour rejected that claim, adding in a footnote, that even Campbell's attorneys considered the punishment aptly fit the crime.

Early last night, a three-judge panel for the U.S. 9th Circuit Court upheld Coughenour's ruling. The panel allowed Campbell's appeal and swiftly decided against it - eliminating the need for a stay of execution.

Campbell's own attorney closed off the last avenue last night. In a "courtesy" call, Lobsenz's office told the nation's highest court not to expect any further filings. The call was a marked departure for Campbell.

In his years on death row, Campbell granted few interviews, blaming news reporters for contributing to his conviction and sentence.

He remained in control, evading questions he disliked and divulging few of his innermost thoughts.

"Do you think about death?" a reporter visiting the penitentiary asked in 1983.

"I don't think about it much," Campbell snapped. "Should I?"

Information from Seattle Times staff reporters Jack Broom, Helen Jung, Peter Lewis, Daryl Strickland and Diedtra Henderson is included in this report.