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Is the Guillotine a Relic of History?

The last execution by guillotine occurred in France in 1977, when a Tunisian immigrant was convicted for the torture and murder of his girlfriend. Hamida Djandoubi ended up losing his head in the same way that King Louis XVI had, almost two centuries earlier. The National Assembly adopted the guillotine as the sole method of capital punishment in the 1790s, during the French Revolution. Supposedly, it was a more humane form of execution. France ultimately abolished the death penalty in 1981, putting Marcel Chevalier, France’s chief executioner, out of work. Djanoubi was the last person to be executed in France, as well as in Western Europe as a whole.

Crime and severe punishment:

  • When Hamida Djandoubi was executed in 1977, a doctor in attendance said Djandoubi was responsive for as long as 30 seconds after decapitation.

  • Prior to the French Revolution, criminals in France were executed on a “breaking wheel,” also called a Catherine wheel, a torturous device associated with Saint Catherine of Alexandria.

  • The breaking wheel was typically a large wagon wheel with spokes. The condemned were tied to the wheel and their limbs were beaten with a club until they died.

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