February 18, 1949: 75 years ago, the West German justice system carried out the death penalty for the last time

Tübingen, February 18, 1949: In the early hours of the morning, the guillotine fell for the last time in the courtyard of the local prison.

February 18, 1949: 75 years ago, the West German justice system carried out the death penalty for the last time

Tübingen, February 18, 1949: In the early hours of the morning, the guillotine fell for the last time in the courtyard of the local prison. He was the last execution ordered by a West German court. A year earlier, Richard Schuh, a 28-year-old trained mechanic, killed a truck driver and stole the tires from his vehicle. Schuh was supposed to pay for the robbery-murder with his life.

The Tübingen jury had no doubts about the perpetrator and the mechanic's motives. On January 28, 1948, Schuh was hitchhiking when he got into a US truck with brand new tires. He shot the truck driver three times with his old Wehrmacht pistol and threw his body to the side of the road. He drove the truck into a forest to remove the tires with the help of two accomplices and later sell them on the black market.

The crime was solved a short time later and Schuh was arrested. On May 14, 1948, Tübingen's regional court ruled: death penalty for murder in conjunction with aggravated robbery. As a result of the "long war and the unfortunate, confused post-war conditions, Schuh lost respect for human life and respect for the law," it said in the written reasons for the judgment. Through his many years of military service, the judges said, he had received more of an education about violence and injustice than about order and morality.

Schuh's appeal was rejected. The justice system also rejected a request for clemency from three of his aunts. The regional court director Walter Biedermann was of the opinion that whoever pardons Schuh must also pardon all future murderers.

As a last resort, the final death sentence could only be overturned through clemency - by the President. Schuh's chances were good: in June 1948, President Lorenz Bock (CDU) had two death sentences commuted to prison sentences. Carlo Schmid, his deputy and Minister of Justice, convinced him that the death penalty was no longer appropriate and amounted to a "degradation of human society."

Unfortunately for Schuh, Bock died of sudden cardiac death. Bock's successor, Gebhard Müller, was a principled supporter of the death penalty. Although Schmid remained his deputy and Minister of Justice, he was often in Bonn in the following months for consultations on the planned Basic Law. He was not present on October 15, 1948, when Schuh's request for clemency was discussed in the Tübingen cabinet. Müller, who would later become President of the Federal Constitutional Court, decided: "The judgment must be carried out."

Schuh was left in the dark about the rejected clemency request for four months. It wasn't until February 17, 1949 that he found out about the decision - and that he was to be executed the next morning. On February 18, 1949, Schuh was led into the prison yard at 6 a.m. After a prayer from the priest, the senior public prosecutor Richard Krauss, who was present, said to Schuh: "Richard Schuh, your life is forfeit! Take your last difficult walk courageously and calmly, knowing that this is the only way you can atone for your guilt and cleanse yourself of your mortal sin . God have mercy on your soul!"

Once on the scaffold, Schuh was beheaded with the guillotine. "The condemned man was completely controlled and did not make a sound," says the protocol of his execution. "The entire act of execution - from the parade to the beheading - took ten minutes."

Schuh's body was handed over to the Anatomical Institute by the executioner and his assistants. The institute's mortuary book states that the "head was to be used for scientific purposes" and that "the rest was intended as a permanent specimen."

Just 95 days after Schuh's execution, the death penalty was abolished in West Germany. With the entry into force of the Basic Law on May 24, 1949, legally legitimized killing ended as the highest punishment. In the GDR it was valid until 1987.

Sources: Spiegel, Zeit, dpa

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