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America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

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With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

150-Year-Old Guillotine Replica Sells At French Auction

Guillotine execution
More than four decades after the guillotine was last used in an execution in France, a 150-year-old replica of the device made famous in The Terror that followed the French Revolution has sold at auction for the equivalent of $9,355.

The 10-foot-tall guillotine, described as having "a few dents on the blade" had nonetheless never been used in an actual execution, according to the Drouot auction house.

The auction, which lasted only two minutes, ended with French industrialist Christophe Février putting in the winning bid, which was double the starting price.

Although the guillotine sold on Wednesday is a replica, its sale has sparked some of the same criticism reserved for past auctions of the authentic object.

"They should not be selling this guillotine," a spokesman for a French auction watchdog told the Parisien newspaper. "Objects like the clothes of people who were deported to the (Nazi death) camps and instruments of torture are sensitive."

The Agence France-Presse news agency reports, "That did not, however, stop another going for 220,000 euros ($234,000) in the same saleroom in 2011 when US pop star Lady Gaga was reportedly among the bidders."

According to the BBC, the replica sold on Wednesday "was once on display at a museum of torture in Paris. It was part of a bankruptcy sale of a jazz club that took over the museum's premises."

France abolished the death penalty in 1981 and its last execution by guillotine was in 1977, when Tunisian Hamida Djandoubi was executed at a Marseille prison for the torture and murder of a young woman.

Related: 20 Minutes to Death: Record of the Last Execution in France

According to the History Channel, "The origins of the French guillotine date back to late-1789, when Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin proposed that the French government adopt a gentler method of execution.

Although he was personally opposed to capital punishment, Guillotin argued that decapitation by a lightning-quick machine would be more humane and egalitarian than sword and axe beheadings, which were often botched."

The device was famously used in the Reign of Terror, or simply The Terror, a period of inter-factional dispute that followed the French Revolution of 1789.

The Terror lasted from June 1793 to July 1794, when 16,594 people were executed by guillotine, according to official records.

Source: NPR, Scott Neuman, July 12, 2018


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