About 600 people were brought to trial. Russian Emperor (Tsar) Nikolay I took a direct and active part in the investigation. He conducted interrogations in his office. The investigation committee informed Nikolay I about every step of the process. However, the court trial was actually a sham; it was the Tsar alone who passed sentence.
The result of the court’s work was a list of 121 “state criminals” divided into 11 categories according to the degree of guilt. P.I. Pestel, K.F. Ryleyev, S.I. Muravyov-Apostol, M.P. Bestuzhev-Rumin and P.G. Kakhovsky fell outside the categories – they were sentenced to death by quartering.
Thirty-one state criminals of the first category were sentenced to death by beheading. It included members of secret societies who gave their personal consent to regicide. The rest were sentenced to various terms of hard labour. Later, the “first category” death penalty was replaced by lifetime hard labour. The quartering of the five leaders of the uprising was replaced by the death penalty by hanging.
The execution of the five Decembrists, Pestel, Ryleyev, Muravyov-Apostol, Bestuzhev-Rumin and Kakhovsky, took place on the night of 25 (13) July 1826. The Polizeimeister read the sentence of the Supreme Court, which ended with the words: “…for such misdeeds – to hang!”
Ryleyev said to the priest in a firm voice: “Father, pray for our sinful souls, don’t forget my wife and bless my daughter.” He ascended the scaffold, crossing himself. The others followed him.
Two executioners put a noose and then a white cap on the convicts. The Decembrists had a piece of black skin on their chests on which their names were written in chalk. They were wearing white robes, and heavy chains were on their feet. When everything was ready, with the push of a spring in the scaffold, the platform, where the criminals were standing on the benches, fell. At the same moment Ryleyev, Pestel, and Kakhovsky fell from the gallows.
Kakhovsky, addressing Benckendorff, who was directing the execution, exclaimed: “Scoundrel! Oprichnik! Take off your aiguillettes! Strangle us with your aiguillettes! Maybe they’ll be stronger!”
Ryleyev, recovering a little from suffocation, added: “What, General, it seems like you’ve come to see us die! Please your Sovereign that his wish is fulfilled – we’re dying in agony. But I’m happy that I’m dying for the Fatherland for the second time!”
In response, Benckendorff ordered the convicts to be hanged again.
Translated by Elizaveta Ovchinnikova