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Delaware Has First Hanging in 50 Years

January 25, 1996 GMT

SMYRNA, Del. (AP) _ Billy Bailey, in his younger days, was known as a hard-drinking hothead. At 49, he stood in the cold in the glare of the lights, without his dentures or his thick glasses, and was hanged for murder.

It was Delaware’s first hanging in 50 years and the third in the United States since 1965.

Bailey went to the gallows early Thursday, nearly 17 years after he used a shotgun to kill an elderly couple in their farmhouse following a liquor store robbery and a day of drinking.

At 5-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Bailey somehow looked small as he stood 15 feet above the ground on the outdoor gallows constructed just for him 10 years ago as his execution date drew near.

Asked by the warden if he had any last words, Bailey said, ``No sir.″ The trap door was sprung at 12:04 a.m. With his face covered with a black hood and his legs bound at the ankles, his limp body twirled in the air.

He was pronounced dead at 12:15 a.m.

``He was a little guy, scared, no teeth, the wind whistling around him,″ said Edmund D. Lyons, his lawyer, who was among the witnesses.

Bailey was condemned for the 1979 murders of Gilbert and Clara Lambertson, before Delaware changed its method of execution to injection. He could have chosen injection but picked hanging because ``the law is the law.″

For the first time in Delaware, family members of the victims were allowed to witness the execution. The Lambertsons’ sons, Delbert and Saxton, were the last to leave. Afterward, Delbert went on vacation and Saxton went to bed.

``Now that it’s past, I just want to forget,″ said Saxton Lambertson’s wife, Mary Ann. ``I think it’s really past time this should have come about. It’s been too many years.″

Among the other witnesses was Robert H. Collison, who was the chief investigator on the Lambertson murders. He said he had arrested Bailey about 10 times for street crimes over the years before the murders.

``Every contact I ever had with Billy Bailey he was hostile,″ Collison said. ``He was boisterous, he would cuss you and call you everything you could ever be called in your life.″

Three other states allow hanging _ Montana, New Hampshire and Washington, where two killers were hanged in 1993 and 1994. Before that, the last hangings in the United States were in Kansas in 1965, when four murderers were executed.

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In Utah early Friday, John Albert Taylor awaited the nation’s first execution by firing squad in 19 years. He was sentenced to die for raping and strangling an 11-year-old girl.

Bailey was to be cremated. His sister, Betty Odom of Pensacola, Fla., planned to take his ashes back to Florida. Sue Coker, Bailey’s foster sister, said: ``Nobody will ever know where he’s at now.″