How France abolished the death penalty after beheading 50 years ago

On the freezing cold morning of November 28, 1972, a French man was guillotined for a murder he did not commit. The incident left his lawyer so traumatized that he spent the rest of his life abolishing the death penalty.

Roger Bontems, 36, has been beheaded for his complicity in the brutal murder of a nurse and a security guard in an escape attempt from a prison in eastern France.

Seven minutes after he was beheaded in the courtyard of La Santé prison in Paris, his co-conspirator Claude Buffet, 39, was found guilty of a double murder that sent shockwaves across France. He was sentenced and faced a similar fate.

Among the witnesses to the execution was a young Crusader lawyer, Robert Baditer, who was haunted by his failure to save the life of his client, Bontems.

In a 2002 interview, Baditell, who famously opposed the abolition of the death penalty for the hostile French people as Minister of Justice in 1981, said that long after Bontems’ death, “I woke up at dawn thinking obsessively why I had failed.” It was revealed that .

“They admitted he had killed no one. So why did they sentence him to death?”

– A knife made from a spoon –

In September 1971, Buffet, a staunch criminal serving a life sentence for murder in Clairevaux Prison, persuaded fellow Roger Bontems, who is serving a 20-year sentence for assault and aggravated theft, Persuaded to join the dangerous getaway. Attempt.

The pair feign illness and are brought to the infirmary, where they arm themselves with knives carved from spoons and take a nurse and a security guard hostage.

They threaten to execute their captives unless they are released and given weapons.

This causes a confrontation with the authorities, who keep French glued to their television screens until the police raid the prison at dawn and find both hostages dead and with their throats cut.

– Voice tilts its head –

The gruesome murder of a nurse, mother of two, and a prison warden, father of a one-year-old girl, has sparked heated debate about the death penalty. He took power two years ago.

When the Orb trial took place in 1972, hundreds of people crammed the streets outside the courthouse screaming for the heads of men.A nurse’s husband and the warden’s family were among those in attendance. is.

Buffet, portrayed in the media as a heartless monster, admits to killing a guard and stabbing a nurse, defying the court and sentences him to death.

Bontems was found guilty of being a mere accessory. However, amid intense pressure from a group of prison wardens seeking revenge for the death of his colleague, he was also given the death penalty.

Badinter will appeal to the country’s Supreme Court against enforcing the “eye for an eye” law, and then to Pompidou, who pardoned six other death row inmates.

His pleas fell on deaf ears in the face of a poll showing that 63% of French people support the death penalty.

– Birth of an activist –

On November 28, 1971, Bontem and Buffet were beheaded in the courtyard of La Santé prison, under a huge black canopy built to prevent the media from taking pictures from helicopters.

Baditel, who lost his Jewish father in a Nazi concentration camp, later said the incident changed his attitude toward the death penalty “from an intellectual conviction to an activist passion.”

“I left the courtyard of La Santé prison at dawn that morning and vowed to fight the death penalty for the rest of my life,” Buddytel told AFP in 2021.

Five years later, he helped convince a jury not to execute the man who kidnapped and murdered a seven-year-old boy, and the case turned into a trial for the death penalty itself.

Buddytel called in an expert to explain in horrifying detail the mechanism of the guillotine, which has been used to decapitate prisoners since the French Revolution of 1789.

In all, he saved six men from execution and drew death threats in the process.

“We entered the courtroom through the front door, and often had to exit through a hidden stairway when the verdict was read and the accused’s head was safe,” said one detractor, “a murderer’s lawyer.” ‘ recalled the man called.

When he was appointed Minister of Justice in the first socialist government of President François Mitterrand in June 1981, he made abolishing the death penalty an immediate priority.

Its repeal was finally adopted by Parliament on September 30, 1981.

Condemning a “killer” justice system, he said: How France abolished the death penalty after beheading 50 years ago

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