I read in a biography that if someone was sentenced to death penalty and the execution squad misses when firing at him, he will be released as a free man. Is it true that there ever was such a law or was it ever practiced?

  • Clearly, this never existed in Russia. I mean, look at Monty Python! youtube.com/watch?v=rJg_xh6HlS8
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 20:27
  • Can you add a more helpful reference about where you got this from? Sounds like a very weird law!
    – user69715
    Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 1:30
  • 1
    Does this conflate the medieval "trial by combat"? en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trial_by_combat
    – user662852
    Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 3:49
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    Mental Floss says its a myth Commented Jan 30, 2016 at 15:09
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    Not by firing squad, but there were similar practices. In ye olden days people were subject to "trial by ordeal" - they would be forced to either confess or engage in a deadly or dangerous undertaking. If they made it through and either survived or was uninjured (it varied by ordeal and jurisdiction) it was taken as divine protection and thus proof of innocence. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trial_by_ordeal
    – Sean
    Commented Jan 30, 2017 at 16:48

2 Answers 2


The poem "Half-Hanged Mary" (1995) by Margret Atwood purports to recount the application of such a law in the 1680s to Mary Reeve Webster of Hadley, Massachusetts, who is one of Atwood's ancestors.

Cotton Mather (the son of the then President of Harvard University and a strong advocate of the Salem witch trials) recounted this case more or less contemporaneously, and there is no good reason to doubt the veracity of this part of his account.


I can find no reference to a law. Quite a few to occasions where a death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment or transportation, even to release at the discretion of the court, not as a legal right. One or two where the convict was returned for a later attempt at execution, presumably successful.

So, nice idea, but almost certainly not true.

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