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Sunday, 11 January 2015


When statesman Shang Yang fell out of favour among the Chinese nobility in 338 BC, his punishment was to be dismembered by being tied to five horse or ox-drawn chariots and torn to pieces when they were sent in different directions. Much of his family were also executed.

A brutal form of execution in ancient China, the Waist Chop, was outlawed in 1734 after a victim survived long enough to write the Chinese symbol for "miserable" seven times in his own blood.  As its name implies, it involved the condemned being sliced into two at the waist by an executioner.

Heinrich Schmidt  was originally a woodsman in the north-eastern Bavarian town Hof. Once, when the notoriously tyrannical margrave of Brandenburg-Kulmbach, Albrecht II (r. 1527–1553), wanted three men hanged, he picked out Heinrich from the crowd and forced him to perform the execution. Due to the severe social stigma attached to executioners he couldn't return to his job as a woodcutter, and he was condemned to carry on as an executioner as was his son, Franz.

Franz Schmidt, the executioner of Nuremberg, carried out 361 state - sanctioned killings during his time in office between 1573 and 1617, detailing each in a diary. His methods for putting prisoners to death included hanging, beheading, burning, drowning and the breaking wheel.

Like much else in Britain, execution has had class distinctions. Aristocrats were beheaded, usually with an axe but for women sometimes with a sword. Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat, was the last man in Britain to be executed by beheading on April 9, 1747 for high treason (supporting the Stuarts’ claim to the Crown),

Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat

The Swedes beheaded Scottish-born adventurer Alexander Blackwell on July 29, 1747 for meddling with their line of succession. Blackwell's last words, “I’m sorry for the mistake but this is the first time I’ve been beheaded,” were spoken after he laid his head on the wrong side of the chopping block and was corrected by the executioner.

Louis XV of France survived an assassination attempt by Robert-François Damiens. Fetched from his prison cell on the morning of March 28, 1757, Damiens said "La journée sera rude" ("The day will be hard.") He then became the last person to be executed in the country by the dreadful punishment of drawing and quartering.

Damiens before his judges

Leopold II of Habsburg-Lorraine, Grand Duke of Tuscany, promulgated a penal reform on November 30, 1786, making Tuscany the first modern state to abolish the death penalty. Consequently, November 30 is commemorated by 300 cities around the world as Cities for Life Day.

Leopold as Grand Duke of Tuscany together with his family

Edward Despard  was the last executed criminal in 1803 to be hanged drawn and quartered in England.

Michel "Marshal" Ney, the military commander during the Napoleonic Wars, refused to wear a blindfold and was allowed the right to give the order to fire at his own execution.

James Cook was a bookbinder convicted of the murder of his creditor Paas, a manufacturer of brass instruments. He was executed in front of Leicester prison on August 10, 1832. and his body was left in a specially made metal cage in a public place as a warning to others. Thousands gathered in Leicester to see the gruesome spectacle.

The largest mass execution in U.S. history took place in Mankato, Minnesota on December 26, 1862 (see below) when the Army executed 38 Native Americans by hanging.

The first woman executed by the federal U.S. government was American boarding house owner Mary Surratt. She was hanged July 7, 1865 along with three men for conspiracy in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Surratt was the mother of John H. Surratt, Jr., who was later tried but was not convicted of involvement in the assassination.

Execution of Mary Surratt,and 3 others in the courtyard of Washington Arsenal (now Fort McNair).

After Rainey Bethea confessed to the rape and murder of a 70-year-old white woman named Lischia Edwards, he was publicly hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky on August 14, 1936. He was the last person to be publicly executed in the United States.

Eugene Weidmann, a convicted thief, kidnapper, and murderer, was the last person to be publicly executed in France on June 17, 1939. After his arrest, Weidmann confessed to murdering five people and was sentenced to death. Shortly thereafter, he was beheaded by guillotine. The "hysterical
behavior" of spectators at the event was so scandalous that French President Albert Lebrun immediately banned all future public executions.

Corporal Josef Jakobs was executed by firing squad at the Tower of London on August 15, 1941 making him the last person to be executed at the Tower. He had been convicted of being a German spy.

When Julius & Ethel Rosenberg were killed by electric chair on June 19, 1953, they were the first husband-and-wife team to be executed in the US. They had been charged with espionage and spying.

The last two executions in Britain took place on August 13, 1964 when murderers Gwynne Evans and Peter Allen were hanged in Manchester and Liverpool.

Ronald Ryan was the last person to be legally executed in Australia on February 3, 1967. Ryan was hanged after being found guilty of shooting and killing prison officer George Hodson during an escape from Pentridge Prison, Victoria, in 1965. His killing was met with some of the largest public protests in the history of Australia and led to the end of executions in the country.

Luis Monge was executed in the gas chamber, Colorado State Penitentiary, Cannon City on June 2 1967 having murdered his wife and 3 of his 10 children. His was the last US execution until 1977, when the death penalty was reinstated.

Gary Gilmore was the first American to be executed after restoration of US death penalty in 1976. (He was executed by firing squad.) His last meal consisted of hamburger, eggs, potatoes, and two mini bottles of contraband Bourbon.

Convicted 40-year-old Texas murderer Charlie Brooks became the first American to be executed by lethal injection on December 7, 1982. The execution by lethal injection took place at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas.

In 1984 Velma (Margie) Barfield became the first woman to be executed in the US since the restoration of death penalty in 1976. (She had poisoned her fiancée.)

In his last week before being executed in Atlanta, Georgia, on September 21, 2011, Troy Davis was put on ‘death watch’, to stop him taking his own life.

Twitter recorded 7671 tweets per second in the moments before word of Davis's execution, making his death the second most active Twitter event in 2011.

Troy Davis Wikipedia

There were 28 executions in the US in 2015. The number has been on the decrease following a high of 98 in 1999. 

China executes far more convicts than every other country combined -- about 5,000 in a year.

Prisoners waiting to be executed on Death Row in America are given a physical beforehand, in order to ensure they are fit enough to die.

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