1990: Samuel K. Doe 1599: Beatrice Cenci and her family, for parricide

1977: Hamida Djandoubi, Madame Guillotine’s last kiss

September 10th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1977, the guillotine claimed its last head.

The famous and infamous blade dropped for the last time at Les Baumettes prison in Marseilles on Hamida Djandoubi, a Tunisian immigrant convicted of the torture-murder of the naive young girlfriend he had forced into prostitution. Oddly, he had already had another appendage — a leg — amputated as a result of a work accident; it was while recuperating that he caught the fascination of his hospital roommate’s 19-year-old daughter, Elisabeth Bousquet.

Though the death penalty was grinding to a halt in 1970’s France, Djandoubi was not the last person condemned (the link is French); the guillotine was only abolished with the election of the Francois Mitterand government in 1981.

Today, Executed Today discusses the case with the man who wrote the book on Djandoubi:* expat Canadian writer Jeremy Mercer. Be sure to check his photo series on the Djandoubi case — including discomfiting shots of Djandoubi re-enacting his crime with a police secretary playing the victim, and the killer in happier times.

ET: Thanks for joining us.

JM: Thanks for the opportunity to speak with Executed Today. I moved to Marseille in 2003 and shortly after I stumbled upon the rather arcane fact that the last man guillotined in France was executed at the local prison on September 10, 1977. I thought it was interesting angle on capital punishment and I decided to try and write a book that mixed true crime and death penalty philosophy. As a result, I’ve been immersed in the death penalty debate for the better part of five years.

Let’s start with Hamida Djandoubi himself — 31 years on, he looks like a nasty but fairly run-of-the-mill criminal. Was it strictly coincidental that he became the last man executed?

It was absolutely random fate. It was really odd – during the 1970s, the death penalty debate was raging in France and most capital cases became national news. But the Djandoubi case went completely under the radar, partly because his lawyer didn’t drum up any attention and partly because his victim was a presumed prostitute and the media prefers ‘sexier’ victims – the elderly, little children, a dentist of good standing walking her dog at night.

Even odder, if you surveyed most French people today, they would tell you that Christian Ranucci was the last man guillotined. Ranucci was a young white man who was accused of killing a little girl. He claimed his innocence, but was nonetheless executed in June 1976 (14 months before Djandoubi). Afterward, a best-selling book and major film were released that argued Ranucci was innocent so his name really sticks in the minds of the French.

Obviously, there’s plenty of tension with North African communities in France still today. Djandoubi was Tunisian, and he was convicted of murdering a white woman. How significant was racial marking in the way his case was handled, inside the courts and out?

This is really curious. In the 1960s and 1970s, the French courts were tainted by racism and one of the national papers even ran an editorial saying that it is better to be named “Marius than Mohamed” when appearing before a French judge. But, in this case, it was Djandoubi’s own lawyer who was a member of a far-right party and staunchly anti-Arab so his case was undermined even before it went to court.

It is one of those frustrating moments. You assume that a death penalty case is of such importance that top professionals are involved. Instead, Djandoubi chose the civil lawyer who negotiated his accident benefits after he had an accident at work and ended up with a very poor defence.

As I said above, his murder victim had worked as a prostitute, which diminished some of the public outrage. As well, his three rape victims were all Algerian girls aged 14 – 16. I guarantee you the case would have been much more explosive if those three girls had been white.

Your book is partly about Djandoubi himself, and partly about the history of the death penalty and especially the guillotine in France. How had the guillotine shifted in France’s identity by the time of this execution?

At first, when the guillotine was introduced, it was public sensation and executioners became celebrities with special edition postcards in their honour and fan mail and all that. As late as the 1860s, tour groups like Thomas Cook were actually organizing execution trips so English tourists could see the guillotine at work. But, bit by bit, the French became a little embarrassed by the fame of the machine. First, they removed the scaffolding that raised the guillotine above the crowds so that it would be brought down to earth and spectators’ views would be impaired; then, they stopped holding executions in the afternoon and held them at the less fan-friendly time of dawn; then, instead of guillotining people right downtown, they did it outside a prison in an obscure neighborhood at the edge of Paris; and, finally, in the 1930s they moved the guillotine inside the prison walls and it was no longer a public event. By the 1970s, the guillotine held such a low profile that many people thought it was defunct and that the French government was using the electric chair.

Interestingly enough, the fall from glory of the guillotine mirrors the general attitude toward capital punishment. By the late 1800s, many countries were already abolishing the death penalty and by the 1970s France was the last country in Western Europe to resort to capital punishment. In the end, the guillotine became the country’s dirty little secret that they kept hidden in their closet.

What are the bits of guillotine folklore you found most interesting?

The most popular stories involve the life in the head after it is severed from the body. It all began with the guillotining of Charlotte Corday, who had stabbed Jean-Paul Marat to death as he soaked in his bathtub. After she was guillotined, the executioner held her head up to the crowd and slapped her on the cheek. But, according to newspaper accounts, both cheeks reddened, as if Corday was indignant by this treatment. Suddenly, everyone began to wonder what a severed head can feel or think.

This curiosity became even more intense a few weeks later when the chief executioner, Charles Henri Sanson, guillotined two political rivals one after the other. He told friends that when he looked in the basket where he kept the heads, one politician’s head was biting the other politician’s head!

So, all this got the scientists really excited and the experiments began. One doctor, Dassy de Ligières, was allowed to take a head back to his laboratory where he connected it to a living dog and pumped blood back into it. He kept hoping the head would speak, but alas, no.

The definitive experiment was conducted in 1905 when Dr. Beaurieux was given permission to wait beside the guillotine and examine the head the moment it was cut. Dr. Beaurieux interviewed the condemned man in prison and came up with a pre-arranged set of signals. The day of the execution, the doctor had incredible luck –the head did a little twist when falling and landed on the stump, slowing the loss of blood. Dr. Beaurieux then called the man’s name three times. At 5 seconds, the man was able to look at the doctor and his recognize him; at 15 seconds, the man was able to look at the doctor but his eyes were unfocussed; and at 25 seconds, the man could barely glance at the doctor. So, to the best of our knowledge, a guillotined head maintains some level of consciousness for more than 20 seconds.

You’re working with Robert Badinter — tell us about him, and his upcoming tour in the U.S.

Robert Badinter is simply the greatest man I’ve ever had the honor of working with. He became a dedicated abolitionist after one of his clients was unjustly guillotined in 1972 and dedicated the next decade of his life to fighting the death penalty. In the end, he saved six lives and ultimately wrote the legislation that abolished the death penalty in 1981 when François Mitterrand named him Minister of Justice.

I interviewed Badinter for my own book in 2005 and he asked me if I could look into translating one of his books into English. When I had time in 2007, I set about the task and now Abolition has been released by Northeastern University Press.

Badinter’s Abolition, in French and in Mercer’s translation

To mark the book’s release, Badinter will be holding three conferences in America on the death penalty and strategies to abolish it:

Why, in your judgment, did France abolish the death penalty? And even before abolition, why did its use abate so dramatically in the postwar era?

For many people, it was a tremendous humiliation for France, the birthplace of human rights and the Enlightenment, to be the last country in Western Europe to use the death penalty. The abolition movement began when “>Portugal abolished the death penalty for common crimes in 1867 and by the late 1970s, nobody was using it in Europe. Even in Spain, one of the first things they did after the death of Franco was abolish the death penalty.

So, the use of the guillotine simply had to abate because the world was becoming aware that the death penalty is a flawed punishment: the risk of executing innocents, the cost of capital trials, the predominance of poor and minorities on death row, the lack of deterrence value. But, as long as there was a right-wing government in power in France, they couldn’t abolish the death penalty because they wanted to appear tough on crime and polls showed a majority of the French people wanted to keep the guillotine.

Once Mitterrand and the Socialists were elected in May 1981, it was clear the death penalty would be abolished, and sure enough, five months later it was gone

Where do you think the death penalty is going in America? And can one really think of worldwide abolition as a legitimate possibility?

I am absolutely convinced we will see almost worldwide abolition by 2050. There will always be a few rogue states, but the death penalty is such an obviously flawed form of punishment it will inevitably be eliminated.

In terms of America, Badinter and I have discussed it at length. He believes the country is ready for abolition and that all is needed is one trigger case: a middle class white guy with a reasonable claim to innocence who is about to executed. This would really instigate a debate on the penalty and as soon as you bring in all stats – the 130 plus people who have been exonerated while on death row, the work of the Innocence Project, the race bias, the cost of capital trials, the overworked public defenders etc etc – I think it would be a slam dunk.

Personally, I think people are selling the abolition the wrong way. Every time I meet a die-hard death penalty supporter who wants a serial killer or a child rapist killed, I ask him or her “Why are you so merciful?” Because, I honestly believe life in prison is a far worse punishment than being executed.

* Here’s a review of Mercer’s book.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,Guillotine,History,Interviews,Milestones,Murder,Other Voices,Racial and Ethnic Minorities

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17 thoughts on “1977: Hamida Djandoubi, Madame Guillotine’s last kiss”

  1. Laura D. Kurtenbach says:

    I am currently reading “When the guillotine fell” and it is a fascinating book. I became interested in the history of this what I thought was an archaic form of punishment when I read about the book in my local newspaper. I received the book as a gift and I personnaly feel that Hamida Djandoubi deserved to die in this fashion. He was a monster and the form of punishment he received was too kind for a bastard like him. He should have been subject to the “Wheel” etc…Some individuals deserve to die. Hamida is definetly one. Laura

  2. Dudley Sharp says:

    Does Mercer fact check?

    The 130 exonerated in the US is a scam, easily uncoverable by fact checking.

    Make you wonder if he fact checked his book as well. He needs to fact check the racial issues, the cost issues, as well.

    Reading Mercer’s belief that life is a tougher sentence than the death penalty, .why don’t we look at those folks who know best.

    What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.
     
    What percentage of convicted capital murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment.
     
    What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero. They prefer long term imprisonment.
     
    This is not, even remotely, in dispute.
     
    Life is preferred over death. Death is feared more than life.

  3. Alfonso says:

    Supporters of the abolition of capital punishment are liars and deshonestos.Amnisty International, Human Rights Watch and Penal Reform claim that they want to abolish the death penalty so that they do not die innocent victims of miscarriages of justice but what they do not say is that it is opposed to ferormente The life without parole (lwop) to justify having granted parole to murderers of children and serial killers.Lo truth is that if we defend the parole for lifers assume a high risk that the criminal released vueva to asesinar.casos as Kenneth_Allen_McDuff, Gilberto Champa, Darryl Kemp etc.say that the rehabilitation support for these murderers admitting the risk of dying innocents.Should know the Spanish experience in abolishing the death penalty.The answer is yes. “Lisa have reason: Dear Jeff Jacoby am a reader of yours through periodic Spanish Libertad Digital, and I would like you to comment on the criticism he has made to organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Wacht for his opposition to the death penalty reason for my mail is reveal the hidden agenda of the abolitionist. You and many people of goodwill who believe abolitionists want to replace the death penalty for life without parole (lwop) unfortunately is not true defenders of the rights of criminals also oppose the parole life sentence with or without parole, these penalties along with the death penalty is banned in Spain and most countries of Latin America. If you do not believe me ask him to look on the Internet data on terrorist and murderer of 25 people Juana Chaos, a case even more shameful that the the Texan Kennet Mc Duff.

  4. Codi Preston says:

    Laura, you make me sick to my stomach.

    You’ve read this whole book by Jeremy Mercer, and you tell
    me that Hamida Djandoubi deserved to be guilottined? I’m
    sorry but no one ever deserves to die. I guess you never
    lost a leg before, have you?? Did you know that Hamida
    lost 2/3rds of his leg?? How would you feel if you lost
    most of your leg?? Even Jeremy Mercer wrote that he
    injured himself in a accident when he was writing this book,
    and he mentions that it gave him only a partial look at what
    depression Hamida was feeling. No, it doesn’t excuse him
    that he tortured Elizabeth Bosquet and killed her, but it
    certainly is at least part of the reason why he snapped?
    Are you disabled, Laura?? Do you know that feels like???

    After reading this book, it gave me nightmares to say the
    very least. Execution by beheading is very brutal, and one
    morning I woke up at 4:40 am (by mistake) and I was thinking
    about how Hamida must have felt being led to the guilottine
    at 4:40 am, and having his head being cut off by a knife
    blade that was 70 pounds in weight. Have you ever had
    your head chopped off?? Do you have even any idea of
    how painful that could possibly be??

    I’m anti death penalty and always have been since I was
    a little boy. You don’t teach people not to kill by killling
    them. That’s as stupid as spanking a child who hits another
    child. What is the message you are trying to send to the
    child?? Is it “It’s okay to hit, but just be bigger and stronger”??
    I am not sinless, you are not sinless, what gives you the
    right to judge people.

    I’m sure you would judge me without a question too. I have
    never hurt anyone in my life, never even hurt anything more
    than a fly. But, I have a disability and I can’t work because of
    it. I have Autism and although I am 33 years old chronologically, in many ways, emotionally and socially
    I am like a 4 1/2 to 5 year old. I even watch children’s TV shows like Teletubbies, Barney, and Care Bears. I love children’s toys too. Many people in their 20s and 30s (not everyone, but a lot) have been very very judgmental to me, calling me all sorts of names and bullying me. I was bullied
    all the way from 5th through 10th grade, and bullied in
    college too. I don’t purposely act like a 4 year old (thats
    more like infantilism), a lot of times I act like a 4 year old
    because I really have no control over it…I unconsciously
    act like a 4 year old. And since a lot of 20 year olds and
    30 year olds have been nasty to me, I have found that
    the people that I want to mostly be around are mostly
    toddlers and preschoolers from ages 2-8. And also with
    elderly adults who are 50+ years old. I find them much less
    judgemental and they accept for who I am. That is all that
    is important. Children are not born and raised to become
    criminals. It’s society that does that. We teach children how
    to be mean and how to be a bully and how to be racist,
    hate each other, etc. This is not bleeding hearted liberalism
    (I’m actually Conservative); this is a FACT that 95% of all
    people in the state prison who are sentenced to death
    have had horrible childhoods where they have been beaten,
    kicked, abused in every possible way. If people cared more
    about children, this world wouldn’t be in such a horrible
    mess right now. You are only creating more problems, by
    returning back violence with more violence. It’s just a cycle
    that goes round and round….this is how wars get started.
    The end of the world will happen because of this.
    If some country like Pakistan has a nuclear weapon and wants to kill some people here in the USA, if it kills a lot of people,
    we will retailiate. And then we’ll throw a nuclear bomb at
    them, and they will throw a nuclear bomb back. And very
    soon, the whole world will be destroyed because of
    nuclear waste. Even those that weren’t destroyed by
    bombs will be destroyed by nuclear winter…no more sunlight= no more plants=no more oxygen=end of humankind.

    We would be a whole lot better off if just everyone was
    turned into a 4 year old. Because at least 4 year olds aren’t
    racist (when was the last time you heard a 4 year old say
    “I’m not playing with him because he’s Black??”), and they
    don’t hate for long (they fight for 5 minutes, but everyone
    is playing and chatting again after that point, in comparison
    to adults, who hold grudges for 10 years, 20 years, 40
    years, a lifetime??). And they are full of love and kindness.

    I have no control about my life. I cannot grow up. But realistically, who the heck wants to grow up anyway??
    If they all grow up to be hateful and judgemental like you
    Laura, then I’d rather have everyone stay like a 4 year old.
    I bet you are probably in your 20s or 30s, and your
    attitude is making it even more feasible for me to be around
    toddlers and preschoolers even more. You’re not helping
    me grow up; you are actually making me become even more
    like a child. I look at simple things in life. I collect vintage
    1970s, 1980s, 1990s toddler English sandal double buckle
    T-strap shoes, Mary Janes, single buckle T-strap shoes, etc.
    I also collect pretty little toddler longalls and jon jons as a hobby
    as well. I have 105 pairs of shoes and 55 longalls in my
    collection. I always have loved children’s shoes since I
    was a little boy when I was 4 years old and I would have started collecting them at age 3 if I had the money (I never
    wore T-strap shoes or Mary Janes as a little boy, nor now).
    Some people with high functioning Asperger’s Syndrome
    or some normal people in their 20s and 30s have gotten a
    big kick out of calling me a pedophile because I collect
    such things and like Teletubbies and Barney and Care
    Bears. I just see the shoes and longalls as being beautiful
    and cute and being an art form (my grandmother made
    children’s dresses in China in the 1960s). So go on, call
    me a pedophile, and I will want to be around toddlers
    even more. Since you are so judgemental, just go right
    ahead, I know I am not one, so I could care less. It’s
    strange I sometimes get called that by some liberals
    (Conservatives in the South never EVER call me that!!)
    on the West Coast, because by calling me that, they are
    actually making me want to be around kids even more,
    because it just so happens that toddlers and preschoolers
    are less judgemental than a lot of adults and at least, they
    accept for who I am. As well as some older adults who
    are in their 50s, 60s and 70s (and 80s).

    And no, I don’t have a job. I have a BA degree in
    Geography, but like I said I have moderate Autism (I don’t
    know how I got a degree!), and I am virtually unemployable, but I get Social Security and I live with my parents, so I could
    care less right now. It’s not my fault, after all, that I’m
    unemployable. I did apply for many many jobs but no one
    ever gives me a job, not even at McDonald’s. I have even
    volunteered at places like AAA (American Automobile Association) and libraries.

    My point of all this is, how would you feel if you suddenly
    lost your leg?? I know that I would feel very depressed and
    my personality would change. No, most people wouldn’t
    kill someone, but obviously, your state of mind would be
    very altered. I have Autism and my life is already very
    hard, made even worse by people who try to get a kick
    and get enjoyment from insulting me and hating me.

    I sincerely hope that you never have any children, because
    you are going to teach them all the wrong things about
    life. And, if you already have children, I feel very very
    sorry for them.

    Codi Preston from somewhere in central California

  5. Codi Preston says:

    And also…… I cannot help myself from being like a 4 year old.
    That’s just the way I am. Even the 4 year olds see me as
    being brethren. No, a 4 year old can’t behave like an adult,
    but they know how other adults behave, they can see that,
    and then they know that I act like a 4 year old. So they then
    see me as a perpetual child of some sort, or a larger species
    of child. I am not in any way a bad influence on children, I
    actually learn from them and they learn from me. I teach them
    how to be compassionate, kind, loving, sharing, etc. They teach me how to see things the way they do. And everyone I know virtually thinks I am emotionally and socially, if not
    mentally, like a 4 1/2 to 5 year old – from elderly people to
    old community college instructors to friends that I have
    that are in their 20s or 30s (yes, I have a couple of friends
    who are normal who are in their 20s/30s). All my friends
    certainly think I am. I have a friend who is a professor at
    my local state university who has a PhD in child development who has taught for 37 years at the University of Texas and at my local 4 year university. He also thinks I’m like a 4-5 year old, and he is actually planning to write a book on child development with me this summer. He also told me in his
    37 years of teaching, he has never met anyone (even any
    child development student) who was more concerned
    about children and about their welfare, than me. You
    don’t know me, Laura, but I am actually one of the sweetest,
    most compassionate, warmhearted, and empathetic people
    that you will probably ever encounter. Then of course, most 4 year olds and 5 year olds are like that, too. Maybe I’ve spent
    too much time around little kids, so I’ve become like one
    (you see this with kindergarten and preschool teachers as well).

    But, anyway, back to what I was saying…I don’t purposely
    act like a 4 year old, I just do without even knowing it.
    I write well for someone who is like a 4-5 year old, but
    some people who are severely autistic even can write
    pretty well (I know someone with an IQ of a 6 year old, and she can write essays, but she has Autism).

    I act like a 4 year old because I cannot act like an adult.
    Sometimes I think it would been better off if I had stayed the
    size of a 4 year old physically, then at least people wouldn’t
    look at me strangely when I suddenly behave like a 4 year old.
    Because I’m 5 feet 11 inches tall, I get those rude stares.
    People expect you to act mature and like an adult if you are
    big. People also assume that if you are short (even 4 feet
    9 inches) then you must be a child or act like one. This
    is unfair on both sides. For example, I’ve known of people
    with Aspergers syndrome who are 4 feet 9 inches who get
    child menus tossed at them at restaurants. To them, that
    seems to be insulting, degrading, and patronizing. Then on the other hand, people like me or people with severe intellectual
    disabilities who are 5 feet 11 inches or 5 feet 9 inches
    are expected to act like “mature” adults (are adults really
    that mature anyways??). So when someone who has
    an IQ of a 3 year old but yet looks like a 30 year old, people
    are like “Whats wrong with him??”. I don’t think that’s right,
    either. In an ideal world, everyone would be the height of
    how they acted. So, some dwarfs that are 3 feet 6 inches
    that are mature adults that hold jobs and can think like an adult would be 5 feet 9 inches, and people like me or intellectually
    disabled people would be 3 feet 4 inches and weigh 39
    pounds, instead of being 5 feet 9 inches. Then everyone
    would be happy. And no one would judge anyone on that
    basis. But unfortunately the world isn’t ideal.

    Laura, even if I could act like an adult (which I can’t
    because of my autism), I wouldn’t want to. Not if being
    an adult is to be judgemental and to be mean and
    racist and all that. I would say thanks, but no thanks.
    I would rather much be profoundly disabled and have the
    body of a 1 year old (at age 33) and bathed, and clothed
    by my parents, and yet be kind, sweet and compassionate,
    than be “NORMAL” and be 20 years old and be a big
    bully and a jerk and a mean intolerant person. No thanks.

    I hope I have made my point very clear.

    Codi Preston from California

  6. Codi Preston says:

    And as an one sentence afterthought:

    Don’t you think Hamida Djandoubi looks somewhat like
    Leo Sayer, who sang “When I Need You”, and “More Than
    I Can Say”?? That’s what I always thought. Of course,
    Sayer was a very big act around the time Djandoubi was executed, in 1977. His hair looks like Leo Sayer’s.
    Anyone think so??

    I love oldies and soft rock music. I totally dislike rap and hip hop and songs with cuss language in every 2 seconds of the song.
    I don’t see why I need to hear my neighbor blasting rap music
    out of his car with booms that make my wall in my room in my house shake!! But anyway, that’s how I know about Leo
    Sayer. I know almost every artist from the 1950s to the
    1970s.

  7. Codi Preston says:

    Does anyone ever read carefully into books? As Jeremy
    Mercer puts it, this is how Hamida Djandoubi felt afer he
    had his leg amputated.

    “A Cataclysmic depression overpowered Hamida Djandoubi
    after the amputation. He couldn’t bring himself to look at
    his bandaged stump. He would jolt awake in the night,
    wet with sweat, grasping for his missing foot. He had no
    appetite.”

    Laura have you ever lost your leg? Have you ever been
    disabled, mentally or physically? No, you’re just a “normal”
    person and you will never understand what it feels like
    to have a disablility.

    Poet Arthur Rimbaud had his leg amputated because of
    cancer in 1891 at the same hospital ward where Hamida
    was. He was very unhappy and died only 6 months later.
    Of course, he never killed anyone like Hamida did, but
    still…

    Hamida’s friend Louis Bugia, who always knew him as
    a happy person always thoughtful of others, visited him
    in the hospital. He said he was surprised by the changes
    in his friend. He said “He was depressed, but I thought that
    was normal considering what had happened What stuck me was his anger. He refused to consider that there might be
    a future”. Hamida kept repeating “Ma vie est gachee”, or
    “my life is ruined”

    Even Jeremy Mercer notes towards the time he was
    finishing he book, he fell down on his bicycle and
    ruptured the tendon in his right ankle. He writes “Though
    it was nothing compared to Hamida’s injury, for 3 months
    I was reduced to hobbling, was dependent on others for
    help, and was surprisingly lethargic and depressed. It
    was a brief glimpse into what my subject may have felt.”

    ( from “When the Guillotine Fell” by Jeremy Mercer,
    pages 33-35; St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY;
    July 2008)

    I’m not excusing what Hamida did, but this is definitely
    a reason why he lost his mind. It is an explanation partly
    into how he ended up spiraling into anger which he ended
    up killling Elizabeth Bosquet. And not to make little of her
    death, but there have been criminals who have killed
    others in much worse ways than the death of Elizabeth.
    I mean, if you look at any other murderer, like Jeffrey
    Dahmer, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Westley Allan
    Dodd, the Menendez Brothers, or anyone else who ever
    killed anyone, there have been worse people than
    Hamida. Yet, a lot of these people never got sentenced to
    death for way more horrific murders/crimes and being
    serial killers. Take Henry Lee Lucas or Ottis Toole as
    another example. Why should someone who kills 35
    people be spared the death penalty and sentenced to life
    and someone kills one person end up in the electric
    chair or guillotine? Isn’t killing 35 people worse than
    killing one?? I guess not, since at least in this stupid
    state of California where I live, you can be sentenced to
    more years for stealing a piece of pizza than for killling
    someone. There was a guy who killed a 3 year old boy
    in Oakland, California that was sentenced to 11 years in
    prison, but the parole board let him out in 6 years? What
    were they thinking?? 6 years? People have served more
    time in prison for stealing pizza than for killing a litttle boy.
    And, this guy who killed a 3 year old, upon release, ended
    up killing a 25 year old mother and her 17 month old baby
    son. Now, knowing California, all he’ll get is a slap on the
    wrist, and “be a good little boy, and don’t ever do that
    again”. I didn’t know the life of a 3 year old was less than
    how much a pizza was worth, but apparently that is
    the case, since actions speak louder than words. I am
    moving the heck out of the West Coast and I’m moving
    to the Carolinas, and good riddance to California and
    their judgementalness against me and their catering and
    cosseting and mothering of criminals. If you are a democrat
    in California, even if you rape or kill someone, the liberals
    in this state will find every way to help you get out of your
    situation. But if you are a conservative, all you have to do is
    just disagree with their political standpoint, and the
    liberals call you a pedophile. That is sick. I don’t want any
    more of this stupidity.

    I’m leaving California and good riddance!! At least people
    in the Carolinas accept me for who I am and for being
    a nice person. Here, all they do is try to mess around
    with me in California.

    Codi Preston from a god forsaken state called California!!

  8. Thank you for calling my attention to a book by Robert
    Badinter on abolition that I want to read! Back in 1977, I
    took part in a small demonstration at the French Consulate
    in San Francisco against the execution of Jerome Carrein on
    June 23 of that year in Douay. Carrein’s execution was the
    next to last in France. His crime was certainly horrible:
    the attempted rape, strangling, and drowning of Cathy
    Petit, an eight-year old girl. This is the kind of case
    where it is possible to consider the mitigating factors and
    recognize the humanity of perpetrator while still finding
    life without possibility of parole, or a whole-life tariff,
    to be appropriate.

    There were only two of us holding a fast and vigil in a
    park near the consulate, and we had a cardboard model of
    the guillotine to bring home our protest. Of course,
    France’s triumph in abolishing the death penalty in 1981
    was an occasional for human rights activists around the
    world to celebrate.

    One point worth notice is that while Tuscany (1786) was the
    first European state in modern times to abolish the death
    penalty, French abolitionist sentiment during the
    Revolution was strong. The Marquis de Pastoret, a disciple
    of Beccaria, wrote a wonderfully insightful and witty
    treatment of the question in 1790, voicing the view shared
    by American jurists such as Justice William Bradford of the
    Pennsylvania Supreme Court and Justice James Wilson of the
    United States Supreme Court that only “absolute necessity”
    could justify the punishment of death.

    In May-June 1791, the French National Constituent Assembly had an
    extended debate on capital punishment, with many
    distinguished speakers in favor of abolition — notoriously
    including Robespierre! Sadly, abolition did not carry. In
    Jaunary of 1793, however, Tom Paine courageously opposed
    the execution of “Louis Capet” (Louis XVI), holding that
    “sanguinary” punishments (i.e. death or mutilation) fitted
    monarchical oppression, not the governance of a republic.
    He is perhaps one of the most famous people narrowly to
    escape the guillotine, when he was imprisoned but the door
    of his cell was evidently not properly marked, so that his
    jailors did not come to lead him to the guillotine and his
    wrongful execution was averted.

    Just what European state was first to achieve abolition —
    especially abolition in practice — may be an interesting
    question. But Beccaria’s _On Crimes and Punishments_ (1764)
    quickly launched the modern abollitionist movement, with
    many French activists in the forefront, some of whom
    tragically fell victim to the human rights violation they
    sought to end.

  9. “20 Minutes to Death: Record of the Last Execution in France”

    Below is an English translation of the record of the moments before the beheading of convicted killer Hamida Djandoubi, on September 9, 1977.

    Djandoubi’s execution was the last execution carried out in France before capital punishment was abolished in 1981.

    Hamida Djandoubi, a Tunisian national, was sentenced for death for killing his live-in lover, Elisabeth Bousquet. He was executed in Marseilles’ Baumettes prison in September 1977.

    The following text was written by senior examining judge (juge d’instruction) Monique Mabelly. Mabelly gave the record to her son, who then passed it on to Robert Badinter, the ex-Minister for Justice who successfully campaigned for the abolition of the death penalty in France.

    Badinter then gave it to the French newspaper Le Monde, which published it on October 9, 2013. The French original can be found here.

    9th September 1977

    Execution of Djandoubi, Tunisian citizen.

    At 3:00 p.m., [presiding] judge R. notified me that I had been appointed to assist with the execution. I feel repulsed, but I can’t get out of it. I thought about it all afternoon. My role will consist of taking note of the prisoner’s statements.

    At 7:00 p.m., I went to the cinema with B. and B. B., then we had something to eat at hers and watched a late night movie until 1:00 a.m. I went home, I did some chores, then laid down on my bed. Mr. B. L. telephoned me at 3:15 a.m., as I requested. I got ready. A police car came to pick me up at 4:15 a.m. During the journey, no one said a word.

    We arrived at Baumettes [a prison in Marseilles]. Everyone was there. The District Attorney (DA) [avocat général] arrived last. A large group formed. 20 or 30 guards, the ‘officials’. All along the path, brown blankets were spread on the ground to cover the sound of our footsteps.

    The full article can be found at http://deathpenaltynews.blogspot.fr/2013/10/20-minutes-to-death-record-of-last.html

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