On January 5, 1993, just after midnight, Washington resumes the death penalty by hanging Westley Allan Dodd at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla. Dodd's execution is the first in the state since January 20, 1963, when Joseph Chester Self was hanged for murder, and comes after several state death-penalty statutes have been struck down by the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated death penalty laws across the country in 1972. Washington voters in 1975 passed an initiative mandating the death penalty for certain offenses and the state legislature enacted death penalty legislation in 1977, but the courts found both those laws to be unconstitutional. Dodd is executed pursuant to legislation enacted in 1981 that was held constitutionally sufficient at the time; however in 2018 the state supreme court will again invalidate the death penalty.
A Clark County jury convicted Dodd for molesting and stabbing to death 10-year-old William Neer and his brother Cole, age 11, in a Vancouver Park in 1989. Dodd confessed to those crimes and to the strangulation and raping near Vancouver of 4-year-old Lee Isli of Portland. Dodd kept a diary of his crimes and he documented more than 50 acts of molesting children. Dodd was arrested after he kidnapped a 6-year-old boy from a Camas movie theater.
Dodd dropped his appeals and asked to be hanged because he deserved to die the same way that he killed his third victim. The American Civil Liberties Union opposed hanging as a method of execution and sued to stop the execution. The State Supreme Court upheld the state law. A Thurston County Superior Court judge granted the plaintiffs some concessions. The state was ordered to conduct the hanging in full view of witnesses rather than have a curtain obscure the body at the end of the rope. The time documenting death ran from the moment the trap was opened until death was pronounced. The appellants were given the right to have their own witness present during the execution. Another death row inmate tried to have the execution videotaped for evidence in his appeal, but that motion was denied.
Just before the hood and noose were dropped over his head, Dodd said, "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. Look to the Lord, and you will find peace." Dodd expressed no remorse for the crimes. Outside the prison, in the snow, supporters and opponents of the death penalty demonstrated.
Witnesses reported that after the trap door was opened, there was no sign of struggle or suffering. Members of the Neer and Isli families and the media witnessed the execution.
Following Dodd's execution, four more men were executed pursuant to the 1981 statute between 1994 and 2010. However, on October 11, 2018, the state supreme court unanimously held that the death-penalty statute was "unconstitutional, as administered, because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner" (State v. Gregory). As a result, the sentences of the eight men then on Washington's death row were converted to life without parole.