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Originally published July 11, 2013 at 6:15 PM | Page modified July 11, 2013 at 8:11 PM

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The dead aren’t always excused from trial

Sergei Magnitsky’s case is not the first in which the dead have been put on trial.

The Associated Press

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MOSCOW — The tax-evasion conviction of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky more than three years after his death was the first under a 2011 Russian law allowing posthumous trials, but not the first time the dead have been put on trial. Some other posthumous trials and actions.


This was a case in which the pope’s corpse was put on the stand in the so-called Cadaver Synod of 897. One of his predecessors, John VII, accused him of conspiring with others to take the papacy and of trying to become bishop of Bulgaria even though he held another bishopric. Formosus eventually was elected pope in 891 and served until his death in 896, but the previous quarrels had festered. His successor revived the charges and ordered Formosus’ corpse be exhumed and brought to the papal court for judgment. He was found guilty of perjury and violating canon law. Two subsequent popes annulled the Cadaver Synod, but Pope Sergius III reaffirmed the conviction.


The French teenager who claimed divine guidance and led the French army to victories in the Hundred Years’ War was tried for heresy and burned at the stake in 1431. But a quarter-century later, Pope Callixtus III ordered a new trial after requests by Joan’s mother and a French official. The proceedings described her as a martyr and said she was falsely convicted. She was canonized as a saint in 1920.


As a towering figure in 17th-century England, Cromwell attracted wide enmity: signing the death warrant for King Charles I, taking harsh measures against Roman Catholics and demonstrating brutal military brilliance. The resentment was such that although he never faced trial, dead or alive, he did suffer a posthumous “execution.” In 1661, after royalists returned to power, his corpse was exhumed and decapitated, and the head was displayed on a pole for years.

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