Dr.Rabl's Written Opinions

Dr Rabl's written opinion(I)

  Please give us your answers to the following questions. Concerning the style of the answers, we just request you to answer Q1 at first, and regarding the other questions, you can choose either way of answering to the questions one by one or covering the all questions comprehensively.

Q1. Could you write your career and achievements (book and article) as a forensic scientist?

A. Univ. Prof. Dr. Walter Rabl 1977 - 1983 study of medicine Leopold-Franzens-University Innsbruck
1983 - 1989 medical specialisation Institute of Legal Medicine Innsbruck (GMI)
1985 apprenticeship for public health officer since 1992 officially certified and autorized expert for forensic medicine, including forensic toxicology and biological stains
1991-1992 Institute of Forensic Medicine St.Gallen, Switzerland; public health officer for the city of St. Gallen
1998 postdoctoral lecture qualification (Theme: “Injuries caused by cardiopulmonary resuscitation”)
1986 - 2000 GMI department of biological stain analysis; since 1997 National DNA Database of Austria
since 2000 GMI department of forensic toxicology (since 2002 accreditated laboratory according to ISO/IEC 17025)
since 2004 president of the Austrian Society of Forensic Medicine (OGGM; www.oeggm.com)
actual position Vice director of the Institute of Legal Medicine Innsbruck

Q2. Is it possible that decapitation (DC : including complete and incomplete one) of a hanged person would occur in judicial hanging(JH)? If so, under what conditions could it occur? What kinds of studies and researches have you made concerning hanging with DC? Please explain your methods and results. (We have attached files No.1 ? 7.)

Yes. The risk of decapitation depends on several factors: length of the rope; flexibility of the rope; weight of the hanged person; thickness of the rope; position of the knob; ... Based on a case of complete decapitation caused by suicidal hanging we did biomechanical experiments and calculations concerning the forces needed for a complete decapitation. By adding the tensile strengths of neck skin (150 Newton/cm), native cervical spine (1000 Newton) and neck muscles (e.g. M. sternocleidomastoideus ? 80 Newton) we found the critical value for decapitation at approximately 12000 Newton. Then we calculated iso-force-curves for 12000 Newton depending on the body weight and rope length. Elasticity of the rope and elongation of the rope length caused by tightening of the loop were expressed as the factor s (distance of deceleration). The article was published in 1995 (Rabl et al.: Erhangen mit Dekapitation. Kasuistik ? Biomechanik. Archiv Kriminologie 195:31-37)

Q3. Royal Commission on Capital Punishment (1949-1953) in UK reported that ‘a man might be given too short a drop and die slowly of strangulation ‘(ref.7). Is it possible that slow strangulation with consciousness (SSC) of a hanged person would occur in JH?

Yes. This would be a typical cause of death. An immediate death caused by displaced vertebral fracture with compression of the medulla oblongata is the exception of the rule in cases of judicial hanging.

Q4. You mentioned 'the variability of the causes of death by hanging'(Radiology Vol.196 no.3 p.615). Could you enumerate every possible cause of death which could happen in JH?

Asphyxia caused by compression of cervical veins and arteries; slow asphyxiation caused by occlusion of the pharynx (1-2 minutes of consciousness are possible in the case of asymmetrical strangulation); decapitation; cervical fractures with compression of the medulla oblongata (rare); acute cardiac arrest caused by injury of the vagus nerve

Q5. It is often said that the death caused by JH is 'almost instantaneous'. Is it true? Please show us the reason of your answer too.

Death caused by judicial hanging only exceptionally is “almost instantaneous” ? when the medulla oblongata is severely injured. In the case of complete occlusion of the cervical arteries (Carotids and vertebral arteries) it lasts for 5 ? 8 seconds until unconsciousness occurs. In the (rare) case of severe irritation of the nervus vagus with following cardiac arrest the period of consciousness lasts for approximately 10-12 seconds. If not all cervical arteries are compressed (typical in judicial hanging because of the asymmetric position of the rope!!), the period of consciousness may last for up to 2-3 minutes

Questions Q6 - 9 below are about JH in Japan. The Supreme Court has confirmed the validity of Decree No.65 in 1873 (ref.9). If actual JH has been carried out according to the decree, there is no room for carrying out executions based on ‘a drop table’. But it is not clear whether they actually use the table (or something like that) or not. We can say, no drop table is adopted at least officially in Japan.

Q6. We have attached two news stories of Japanese newspapers reporting an accident during the execution of JH with incomplete DC on July 6, 1883 (refs.1 and 2). Could you infer the cause of this accident?

The newspaper articles describe a case of incomplete decapitation during judicial hanging. Most likely this accident was caused by a combination of a too long rope (fall height) and a high body weight of the prisoner. A higher tightness of the rope with little flexibility could have been a promotive factor.

Q7. In case where JH is carried out according to the law (ref.8) and the decree (ref.9) at the present gallows with the trapdoor of the height of about 4 meters in Japan (ref.10), do you think there are any risk of DC and SSC? Do you think that the risks of DC and SSC in Japanese JH are as the same level as those in countries where they use the drop table? Please explain the reasons of your answers.

Of course with this preconditions in Japan there will remain high risks of DC or SSC. An “accurate” drop table may reduce the risk of DC on one hand, but on the other hand lower falling heights (rope lengths) increase the risk of SSC. There are several other important factors beside falling height and body weight that influence the injury patterns of judicial hangings, e.g. mechanical properties of the rope; anatomical differences; kind of knot; … It has been shown, that the length of the drop does not produce expected or consistent results (Reay et al. Injuries produced by judicial hanging. Am J Forensic Med Pathol 1994; 15:183-186)

Q8. Do you think that both risks of DC and SCC in JH of an inmate with 100 kilograms or more weight (like our client) are the same as those of a man with 69.1 kilograms (the average body weight of Japanese male at the age of 40-49 in 2005)? Do you think they can give 'proper' drops to all condemned inmates over the weight of 100 kilograms (ref.11 and 12)? Please explain the reasons of your answers.

There is no possibility to derive “proper” drops from the body weight only. There are several other factors that affect extent and direction of the resulting forces. Even if one could calculate the exact forces, it cannot be anticipated which effect this forces would have on a specific individual. Nokes et al. stated in 1999, that there is no clear cut-off point between DC, immediate unconsciousness due to spinal cord disruption and death following a period of apparent consciousness (Nokes et al. Biomechanics of judicial hanging. A case report. Med Sci Law 1999; 39:61-64)

Q9. Do you think that an official adoption of a drop table or any other scientific reforms can eliminate both risks of DC and SSC from JH in Japan? Please explain the reasons of your answer.

An official drop table cannot eliminate the risks of DC and SSC, because such a drop table cannot include all factors that contribute to the injury patterns.

Q10. Could you explain the cruelty of JH you think, if any? Could you compare it with that of shooting and lethal injection?

Any method of death penalty in my opinion is cruel and incompatible with the Hippocratic oath, physicians in Austria are committed to take on graduation day. Judicial hanging is an exceptional example of cruelty because there is no scientific possibility to predict the effects of JH on a specific person. In most cases of judicial hanging death will occur not instantaneously but after a period of consciousness and therefore unnecessary pain and harm to the person concerned.

Q11. If you have anything to say about JH as a forensic scientist, please write it freely.

My personal opinion is that death penalty should be abolished all over the world. Judicial hanging is a barbarous archaic method of execution that in many cases leads to unnecessary and unpredictable periods of consciousness associated with inhuman tantalization of the convicted.

Dr Rabl's written opinion(II)

  Please answer the following additional questions Q12 ? 17.

  In 1955, the Supreme Court in Japan adjudged that judicial hanging was not cruel punishment. Though the decision never showed the reason for its conclusion, it seems to be very probable that its scientific and forensic medical grounds were on the written opinion by Tanemoto FURUHATA , MD, in 1952, who was professor of forensic medicine at Tokyo Medical and Dental University and ex-professor at Tokyo University at that time.

  Dr.Furuhata enumerated 5 execution methods in his opinion. After mentioning shooting (“with remarkable damage to a body by penetration of bullets”), beheading (“resulting in a ghastly scene with a head-trunk separation and massive bleeding”) , electrocution (“not being regarded as an ideal method today”) and lethal gas (“being said to be most humane because of an instantaneous and least painful death”) briefly, he went into hanging.

  He made reference to the article (Deutsche Zeit. Ges. Gericht. Med. vol.11 p.145 1928) by Dr.Schwarzachel who was professor of forensic medicine at Wien University as of the year 1955. Dr.Furuhata said, “Dr.Schwarzachel states in his article that when the ligature runs symmetrically toward the posterosuperior region and when intravascular pressure is 170mmHg, 3.5kgw force is needed for occluding the carotid arteries and 16.6kgw force is needed for obstructing the both vertebral arteries by compression.” And Dr.Furuhata continued, “Therefore, being suspended by a ligature around the neck with constricting force of the body weight (hanging), the body weight over 20kg will make it possible to obstruct the bilateral carotid and the both vertebral arteries completely by compression. He shall faint away and lose consciousness at the very moment when the body weight is put on the neck. Thus it is commonsense in the field of forensic medicine that typical hanging is comfortable way of death with the least pain and suffering. There, however, shall be some differences in the dying situation, between when the ligature around the neck is a kind of flexible fabric and when the ligature is of hard material such as a hemp rope or an ordinary rope. Using a soft fabric as the ligature shall be able to give a far easier death, comparing using a hemp rope or ordinary rope. From the forensic medical point of view, among above-mentioned 5 execution methods, using hydrocyanic acid gas or hanging is considered to be the best as the method giving a condemned inmate little pain and instantaneous death. If, however, the actual execution method in Japan is carried out without full understanding of this forensic medical principle, I guess there will be a non-ideal part in the dying situation. If the hanging is executed ideally, I believe that it is superior to the other execution methods in regard to not making damage to the corpse, not giving pain (except for mental one) to the inmate, and not leaving the sense of cruelty after death.”

  And he mentioned the time from the start of the execution to the death of the inmate in each 5 methods.

Dr.Furuhata’s conclusion of his opinion was as follows: “From the medical point of view, hanging which is actually carried out in Japan is not cruel, compared to the execution methods which are actually carried out in other countries. However, there is room for improvement in the details of this execution method. Though beheading and lethal gas shall result in death immediately after the start of execution and in hanging the inmate shall lose his consciousness just after the drop and shall not feel any pain at all, the heart shall still keep beating slightly and irregularly for about 10-30 minutes.”

Q12. Considering from the viewpoint of current forensic science, are there any respect to be corrected or to be added in the above-mentioned experiment performed by Dr. Schwarzachel in 1928? If any, please explain them.

The text passages marked in red are definitely wrong, the forces mentioned by Schwarzachel are correct. In hanging unconsciousness occurs not “at the very moment”, because even if the blood circulation in the brain stops immediately there is a lot of oxygen left in the brain ? enough for at least few seconds of consciousness. See the experiments of Rossen et al. (Rossen R, Kabat H, Anderson JP (1943) Acute Arrest of Cerebral Circulation in Man. Arch Neurol Psychiat 50:510-528). The authors used a blood pressure cuff around the neck of young men (n=111) to compress the neck structures. Using a pressure of 600 mmHg the test subjects lost consciousness in 5 to 10 seconds. Immediately afterwards general seizures occurred. Most of the people reported pain of different characteristics and intensity.

Q13. Considering from the viewpoint of current forensic science, are there any respects to be corrected or to be added in the above-mentioned opinion written by Dr.Furuhata in 1952? If any, please explain them.

Dr. Furuhata did not take into account the painful period of consciousness. In the article of Rossen et al. the test persons to some extent described serious pain.

  Ministry of Justice had disclosed the several photographs of the execution chamber at Tokyo Detention Center last summer. We have attached them (ref.13). Please examine them. Through the disclosure, the height of the trap door was proved to be about 4 meters as ref.10 had reported.

Q14. From your article, we have understood that if the drop is short and a thin and hard ligature like steal wire is not used in JH, decapitation will hardly occur owing to the shortage of falling energy put on the neck. Is this correct?


Q15. Is the 4 meters height of the trap door at the Tokyo Detention Center high enough to generate the marginal force of 12000 Newton which can cause decapitation? If necessary, please explain on condition that the rope is not so elastic and the body weights (BWs) of the inmates are 65.8 kilograms (the average body weight of Japanese male older than 19 years old in 2007) and 100 kilograms (our client’s BW).

Yes. As you can see in fig. 5 of our article, decapitation can occur even if the falling height is lower than 4 meters. The critical factor is the distance of deceleration (factor s).

Q16. After examining the photographs, do you change your opinion that there will remain high risks of decapitation or slow strangulation with consciousness in Japanese JH (answer to Q7)?

No. As one can see, in the situation of the Japanese execution chamber the falling height would be at least 4 meters.

Q17. This is the confirmation of the meaning of your answer to Q7. You stated that an “accurate” drop table may reduce the risk of DC on one hand, but on the other hand lower falling heights (rope lengths) increase the risk of slow strangulation with consciousness (SSC). Do you mean that because an “accurate” drop table may give lower falling heights, it may reduce the risk of decapitation on one hand, but on the other hand lower falling height (rope length) relatively increase the risk of SSC since SSC may occur independently of the falling height?


Dr Rabl's written opinion(III)

  Please answer these additional questions, Q18-28.

  In 1935, Dr. Buji ISHIBASHI (M.B., assistant of forensic pathology lab in the Medical Department of Kyushu Imperial University) wrote two articles (Gerichtlich-medizinische Untersuchungen uber die Leichnamen der Hingerichteten (1) und (2) Archiv Fur Gerichtliche Medizin und Kriminologie 9; 540-547, 660-666; the articles were in Japanese, and only bibliographic information was given also in Germany, printed in Japan).

  In these articles, Dr. ISHIBASHI reported the forensic findings of 14 judicially hanged cadavers, on which postmortem examinations had been carried out at his lab. He made the reports from the examination records in 11 cases (No. 1-11) and the findings of preserved neck organs in 3 cases (No.12-14). We have extracted the findings of each case and attached them as ref. 14.

  Dr. ISHIBASHI was able to obtain neck findings for 10 cases: No.2, 3, 7-14.

In one case (No.2), there was no remarkable change in the neck. In nine cases (No3, 7-14), the neck organs were badly torn. There were fractures of cartilage; lacerations of muscles, ligaments, and vessels; remarkable hemorrhage; and the formation of cavities. Fractures of the second cervical vertebrae were found in two cases (No.10, 14). Double ligature marks were noted in two cases (No.7, 10).

Dr. ISHIBASHI’s conclusion was as follows: “I believe that, in judicial hanging (JH), at the same time that the inmate was hanged, the inmate’s body with considerable weight fell down at high speed; therefore, in comparison with ordinary hanging (non JH), the force on the neck was so great that the injuries were produced.”

Q18. It seems that Dr. Ishibashi’s reports suggested that the neck organs except for the vertebrae were so easily injured by the impact of the drop. Could you explain his result from your research on their tensile strength?

Our results are in concordance with these observations. The mean force to disrupt the Mm. sternocleidomastoidei was 80 Newton, for one centimeter of neck skin 150 N and for separation of the cervical spine (without fractures) a tearing force of 1000 N was necessary.

Q19. You mentioned in your answers to Q5 that consciousness of a hanged person would last at least for 5-8 seconds in JH, except for the rare case. Dose a hanged person felt pain from the above-mentioned injuries during this period of consciousness?

Such injuries would lead to serious pain for the hanged person.

Q20. Dr. Furuhata’s opinion seems to be based on the precondition that the blood flow of the cervical arteries is obstructed completely and instantaneously in every JH of an inmate weighing more than 20kg. From the viewpoint of current forensic science, is this precondition correct even if the asymmetrical rope position is used? Please explain the reason of your answer. And if you know any articles about this topic, please introduce them to us.

In the cases of asymmetrical rope position (highest point in front of the ears ? atypical hanging) the arteries (A. carotis and A. vertebralis) on the side of the highest point are not obstructed in most cases ? this leads to a syndrome of congestion with petechial hemorrhages in the conjunctivae, oral mucosa, … and to a longer period of consciousness. BUT: even if the cervical arteries are obstructed immediately ? the oxygen reserve of the brain would allow a period of consciousness of several seconds (5-8 s).

It is often said that they have the intention to cause a cervical spine fracture for the immediate death of the inmate in JH, by adjusting the height of the fall and the position of the knot. But Dr. Ishibashi’s result suggested that the rate of fracture would be low, which seems to correspond with the description of James et al. (Forens. Sci. Int. Vol.54 pp.81-91 1992).

Yes ? this fact is known and commonly accepted in forensic medicine. In this context it has to be mentioned, that a vertebral fracture itself does not lead to immediate unconsciousness. The parts of the fractured vertebra would have to be displaced and injure the medulla oblongata. A fracture of the body of C2 (case 10) or an incomplete fracture of both superior articular surfaces of C2 (case 14) per se do not cause unconsciousness!!

Q21. Please explain the forensic or biomechanical conditions which cause the fracture of the cervical spine in JH. Would it be difficult to realize this condition in actual JH, even if they intend to do so? If so, why would it be difficult?

Fractures of the cervical spine in cases of hanging are caused by forces that exceed the biomechanical limits of the vertebrae. This can be reached by compression (not possible by hanging), hyperextension, hyperflexion, excessive lateral movement or torsion (not possible). An asymmetrical position of the rope would increase the risk for fracture but cannot guarantee fractures and even less injuries of the medulla.

Q22. Do you think that the low-rate of the cervical spine fracture supports your answers to Q4 and Q5, that the cervical fractures with compression of the medulla oblongata (which will cause “almost instantaneous” death) are rare?

Yes. Fractures are rare and additional injuries of the medulla are very uncommon.

Q23. This is confirmation about the article by Dr. Schwarzacher, which Dr. Furuhata quoted in his written opinion. Dr. Schwarzacher measured the force to occlude the neck vessels completely with placing a rope symmetrically on the throat of a cadaver. He didn’t make any experiments with asymmetrical rope positions nor on consciousness of the person whose neck vessels were completely obstructed.   Is this correct? If our understanding is wrong, please explain and make correction.

In his article Schwarzacher mentioned other positions of the rope but he did just stated, that in the cases of typical hanging (highest point of the rope in the neck) the lowest forces were needed to stop the circulation in the arteries.

We quote a book (Former prison officer talks on prisons San-ichi shobou pp32-33; in Japanese) written by Mr. Toshio SAKAMOTO in 1997, who was a former prison officer. In the quotation, he recalled his prison officer days:
‘(Translator’s note: A veteran prison officer over 50 years old is talking to Mr. Sakamoto…),
“I have taken part in the execution twice. On the second, a new senior-prison-officer took charge of placing the noose around inmate’s neck. The officer looked pale and his hands and legs were trembling. What a mess!, I thought. But the order to open the trapdoor was given. The handle was pulled. The inmate fell down, but he did not die because he was hanged with the rope on his jaw. The warden and the prosecutor who attend the execution were so upset that they couldn’t say a word.”
  The old prison officer was unable to continue speaking, and he looked up the sky.
“I”, he faltered in his speech, “Saved him from the pain.”
  What he said he meant was that in some way he had killed the condemned man who dangled from a rope that hung around his chin suffered without being able to die.

A horrible, but unfortunately realistic story.

Q24. If in JH the noose is not on the throat but on the face, as in the above-mentioned case, could you estimate how long consciousness of the hanged inmate would last? Will the inmate die in such an execution of JH with the noose on the face? Please also explain the reasons of your answers.

This depends on the exact position of the noose and the movements of the head during hanging. If the cervical vessels are not compressed ? unconsciousness cannot occur.

Q25. Mr. Sakamoto suggested that the new prison officer misplaced the noose. Is it possible that otherwise the noose, which had been ‘properly’ placed before the drop, might slip or move to ‘improper’ positions after the drop because of the impact of the drop and/or anatomical variations? (We have attached the file ref.16, a case of the noose slipping from the neck in JH).

This is possible if the diameter of the loop is too high, so that the noose can “move”.

Q26. We understand that the article by Dr. Rossen et al. (1943) has been quoted in many articles. Where do you think the credibility of this article comes from? Please explain from the standpoint of a forensic scientist.

Rossen made his experiments with living (!!) young men. This makes the article unique ? all other authors reported about observations or made experiments with corpses.

Q27. This is confirmation about the article by Dr. Rossen et al. The test persons felt pains only because of the stoppage of blood flow to the brain. Is this correct? If our understanding is wrong, please explain and make correction.

The pain of these persons cannot be caused by the forces on the neck. The pain sensations account to impairment of the circulation of neck organs and the brain (maybe with brain swelling and headache).

In Japanese JH, it is said that the noose is made of hemp rope with a 2.0cm diameter and covered with leather.

Q28. By covering the noose with leather, would the inmate’s risk of the following decrease?

i)Damage to the skin?
ii)Injury to subcutaneus neck organs?
iii)Decapitation (DC)?
iv)Slow strangulation with consciousness (SSC)?

Please also explain the reasons of your answers.

By covering with leather only the risk of skin abrasions would be reduced because of the more slippery surface. The forces itself cannot be reduced by such a covering, so the risks of 2, 3 and 4 would not change.