Legal Groundup

Legal Studies from the ground up

Application Excercise 4p

The case of the last man hanged in Victoria: Ronald Ryan

The facts of the case, including the year Ronald Ryan was executed, and the decision in the case.

  • In 1964 Ronald Ryan was sentenced to 13 years’ jail at Melbourne’s Pentridge Prison for a series of robberies.
  • In Pentridge, he befriended inmate Peter Walker, and together they trained for an escape the following year. On 19 December 1965, during the prison warders’ Christmas party, they scaled the prison’s inner wall and reached the guard’s walk, surprising warden Helmut Lange.
  • Ryan saw a rifle on the wall of the post and grabbed it. They had not intended to use firearms but Ryan realised that if he didn’t use it, Lange would.
  • Another warden, George Hodson, came out from the party and went after the escapees, without sounding the alarm. When Ryan heard Walker call for help because Hodson had caught up to him, Ryan turned and a shot rang out. Hodson died almost instantly.
  • The two men completed their escape and were on the run for 19 days, during which time they also robbed a bank. But after a nation-wide manhunt, Ryan and Walker were re-captured in Sydney, extradited to Melbourne and tried for murder.
  • The jury found Ryan guilty of murder.
  • He was given the death sentence.
  • Ryan was the last man hanged in Australia on February 3 1967, closing the door on Australia’s history of capital punishment.


Arguments for and against the use of capital punishment as a criminal sanction.



·         Good for murder related offences.

  • If someone murders someone else, they have given up their human rights, including the one to stay alive themselves
  • The punishment should ‘fit the crime’ – if you have killed someone, you should be killed too
  • Giving a killer the death sentence will stop them – and others – doing it again
  • The very small chance of executing the wrong person is balanced by the benefits to society of putting off other murderers.


·         You can’t take it back. The death penalty is irreversible.

·         It doesn’t deter criminals. There is no evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than a prison term.

·         There’s no ‘humane’ way to kill.

  • The death penalty goes against our most basic human right – the right to life
  • Mistakes are sometimes made in the law – what if someone is killed who is actually innocent?