THEY stood three metres apart in the crowded car park in the freezing night air behind chain link fences but they were worlds apart, separated by an insurmountable philosophical difference. As they arrived outside Washington State Penitentiary, on the outskirts of Walla Walla, to be part of the most controversial execution since the United States re-introduced the death penalty, the would-be spectators were segregated into those for capitalpunishment and those opposed to it. About 50 burly police officers, state troopers and dogs strolled around keeping them apart. The opposing groups started to arrive four hours before convicted child killer Westley Allan Dodd was due to become the first convict to die by hanging in the United States in almost 30 years. Despite knee deep snow and temperatures which had dipped to minus 10 degrees Celsius, there were about 250 pro-capital punishment supporters, kept warm by their enthusiasm and flasks of coffee, and about 50 opponents nestled together. Dodd, 31, who admitted killing three young boys, one of whom he repeatedly raped before hanging, had fought to be executed by hanging and had resisted all attempts to save him, despite a last-minute concerted effort by anti-death penalty activists to getthe execution declared ''cruel and unusual punishment''. Outside the night was unbearably cold but tempers were running high. A crowd of mostly teenagers laughed, joked and taunted their adversaries. ''Hang him, hang him,'' they chanted as they waved crude banners depicting a matchstick man dangling from the end of a rope and others proclaiming: ''An Eye for An Eye.'' Many wore white twine fashioned into loose nooses around their necks. ''We think he should die,'' said 16-year-old Sylvan DeCroria, who attended the execution with a group of friends because their high school was closed due to the snowy weather. ''We're here to state our opinion. We think he should die. In this country we have the right to choose and he chose wrong so he has to pay the price.'' Other demonstrators were not so enthusiastic, but hoped Dodd's execution would send a message that heinous crimes would no longer be tolerated in the state. ''We know there are people out there who aren't going to be deterred by this because they're crazy,'' said John Spain. ''But if one person is deterred, it was worth it. This western justice worked for us 100 years ago and it's time we brought it back.'' The opponents were mostly older and mainly a coalition of members of concerned church bodies and organisations such as the Washington Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union. They spent much of the evening singing and chanting as they marched around in a circle. ''We are justice-seeking people,'' they sang, ''and we are singing for our lives.'' Soon before the scheduled time of the execution, four started walking up the hill towards the prison. They were intercepted halfway by police and quickly fell to their knees and appeared to start praying. After a brief confrontation they were peacefully placed in a van and driven to Walla Walla police station. A spokeswoman for the group, Ms Magdaleno Rose-Avila, the western regional organiser for Amnesty International, said later they were trying to see the prison warden to ask him to stop the execution. As the four were driven away, one minute before the 12.01 am scheduled hanging, the anti-death penalty advocates saluted them with raised clenched fists. No one outside knew whether the execution was going ahead as scheduled but, at the precise moment Dodd was due to drop to his death, a cheer went up from the death penalty supporters as they started letting off fireworks. The opponents huddled together praying and crying. There was no response from the authorities and a few minutes later the gates to the supporters' fence were opened and they were ordered to leave. Those against stayed praying and looking glum for about 30 minutes before dispersing. Even though the authorities refused to make any comment about whether the execution had gone ahead, many knew he was dead thanks to pocket radios and cellular phones being carried by the army of press waiting outside the prison. Rumours quickly spread that the coroner called to examine Dodd's body was also a farmer. So when a pick-up truck with the back covered with a tarpaulin left the prison shortly before 1 am the word went round: ''That's Dodd's body''.