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BERN, Switzerland — The last person to be executed as a witch in Europe has been exonerated more than 200 years after her death.
Anna Goeldi was beheaded by Swiss executioners in 1792 after she was accused of causing a girl to spit pins and convulse.
The decision to clear Goeldi’s name was announced Wednesday 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.
The Glarus government has said that historical investigators have found that the woman was executed even though those who put her to death were enlightened people who knew the alleged crime was "neither doable nor possible" and that they had no legal basis for their harsh verdict.
Goeldi was a maidservant in the house of a prominent burgher, Johann Jakob Tschudi.
Tschudi, a doctor and magistrate, allegedly had an affair with Goeldi, according to a book published last year by local 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."
Now, 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 non-lethal poisoning.
Goeldi’s execution was even more incomprehensible as it happened in the Age of Enlightenment when "those who made the judgment regarded themselves as educated people," the government said.
The exoneration also was an acknowledgment that an unknown number of other innocent people whose cases cannot be reviewed had been killed over the centuries.