Swiss state exonerates Europe's last witch

A woman beheaded after she was accused of causing a girl to spit pins and convulse was exonerated Wednesday, more than 200 years after she became the last person executed as a witch in Europe.

The decision to clear Anna Goeldi's name came after long debate in the eastern Swiss state of Glarus, and was taken in consultation with the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches.

Several thousand people, mainly women, were executed for witchcraft between the 14th and 18th centuries in Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe. Yet Goeldi's trial and beheading in the village of Mollis took place at a time when witch trials had largely disappeared from the continent.

Goeldi, who was executed in 1782, was a maidservant in the house of prominent burgher Johann Jakob Tschudi. Tschudi, a doctor and magistrate, allegedly had an affair with Goeldi, according to a book published last year by journalist Walter Hauser.

Last year, the canton's executive branch and the Protestant Church council both rejected considering an exoneration. The government said then it saw no need to make a “celebratory apology for injustice 225 years ago.”

The Glarus government has said that the Protestant Church council, which conducted the trial, had no legal authority to do so and had decided in advance that Goeldi was guilty. She was executed even though the law at the time did not impose the death penalty for nonlethal poisoning.

The exoneration was an acknowledgment that an unknown number of other innocent people whose cases cannot be reviewed had been killed over the centuries. The Glarus government did not assume any responsibility, however, for past wrongdoings.