In 1718, a young woman named Moricette Nayl fought with her brother’s mother-in-law and accidentally killed her. Ruled a homicide, the incident set in motion an investigation, a trial, Moricette's flight from justice, an execution in effigy and, ultimately, the pardon of the killer and her reintegration into the community. Based on the detailed records of the court dossier, this microhistory reveals the social networks of a small town, the history of interpersonal violence, the complex criminal justice system at work, and the power of restoring harmony after a tragedy of this magnitude. An enduring mystery is the reluctance of those closest to the crime to participate in the legal process. An explanation for their silence sheds light on the turmoil of the criminal justice system in France in the decades leading up to the French Revolution. Neither independent feudal lords nor an elite tamed by an Absolutist king, the gentlemen overseeing justice in this place maintained a delicate balance between their personal power and the rule of law. The incident and its aftermath also reveal the bonds that make community possible, even in the face of senseless violence.
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Nancy Locklin is professor of history at Maryville College.