Singular Recovery of a Female Unjustly Executed
The following account of the case of a poor girl who was unjustly executed in 1766, is given by a celebrated French author, as an instance of the injustice which was often committed by the equivocal mode of trial used in France:—
“About seventeen years since, a young peasant girl, possessed of a very agreeable figure, was placed at Paris in the service of a man depraved by all the vices consequent on the corruption of great cities. Smitten with her charms, he tried every method to seduce her; but she was virtuous, and resisted. The prudence of this girl only irritated the passion of her master, who, not being able to make her submit to his desires, determined on the most black and horrible revenge.
“He secretly conveyed into her box many things belonging to him, marked with his name. He then exclaimed that he was robbed, called in a commissaire (a ministerial officer of justice,) and made his deposition. The girl’s box was searched, and the things were discovered. The unhappy servant was imprisoned. She defended herself only by her tears; she had no evidence to prove that she did not put the property in her box; and her only answer to the interrogatories was, that she was innocent.
“The judges had no suspicion of the depravity of the accuser, whose station was respectable, and they administered the law in all its rigour; a rigour undoubtedly excessive, which ought to disappear from our code to give place to a simple but certain penalty which would leave fewer crimes unpunished. The innocent girl was condemned to be hanged. The dreadful office was ineffectually performed, as it was the first attempt of the son of the great executioner.
“A surgeon had purchased the body for dissection, and it was conveyed to his house. On that evening, being about to open the head, he perceived a gentle warmth about the body. The dissecting knife fell from his hand, and he placed in his bed her whom he was about to dissect. His efforts to restore her to life were effectual; and at the same time he sent for a priest, on whose discretion and experience he could depend, in order to consult with him on this strange event, as well as to have him for a witness to his conduct.
“The moment the unfortunate girl opened her eyes, she believed herself in the other world, and perceiving the figure of the priest, who had a marked and a majestic countenance, (for I know him, and it is from him that I have this fact,) she joined her hands tremblingly, and exclaimed, “Eternal Father, you know my innocence, have pity on me!” In this manner she continued to invoke the ecclesiastic, believing, in her simplicity, that she beheld her God. They were long in persuading her that she was not dead—so much had the idea of the punishment and of death possessed her imagination. Nothing could be more touching and more expressive than the cry of an innocent being, who thus approached towards him whom she regarded as her Supreme Judge: and, independently of her affecting beauty, this single spectacle was sufficient to create the most lively interest in the breast of an observing and sensible man. What a scene for a painter! What a moral for a philosopher! What a lesson for a legislator!
“The process was not submitted to a new revision, as was stated in the Journal de Paris. The servant having returned to life, recognised a man in him whom she had adored, and who directing her prayers towards the only adorable Being, quitted the house of the surgeon, who was doubly unquiet on her account and his own. She retired to hide herself in a distant village, fearing to meet the judges or the officers, who, with the dreadful tree, incessantly haunted her imagination. The villainous accuser remained unpunished, because his crime, though manifested to the eyes of two individual witnesses, was not so clear to the eyes of the magistrates and of the laws. The people subsequently became acquainted with the resurrection of this girl, and loaded with reproaches the execrable author of her misery; but, in this immense city, his offence was soon forgotten, and the monster perhaps still breathes; at least, he has not publicly suffered the punishment which he deserves.
“A book should be published, containing a collection of cases in which innocent persons have been punished, in order, by showing the causes of error, to avoid them for the future.—Perhaps some man of the law may undertake this important work.”
From The cabinet of curiosities, or, Wonders of the world displayed,London, Printed for J. Limbird, 1824.