The Woman Who Wanted to be Executed

Milton Morris was a successful San Francisco, California, insurance executive back in 1951, and he had a suspicious wife. Gertrude Morris thought her husband was having an affair with his good-looking secretary.

One day she goes to his office and makes a nasty scene for everyone to see and hear. That was the last straw. Milton went home that evening and packed his belongings. He didn’t make it to the front door. Gertrude aimed a pistol at him while he held an armful of shirts and shoots him in the back.

“Go for the doctor,” Milton pleads, lying on the floor gravely wounded. In response, Gertrude vomits and collapses on the floor next to her dying husband.

Call the police

A few hours later she regains consciousness and gets back on her feet, changes her clothes and asks neighbors to call the police.

Thereafter, Gertrude consistently admitted her guilt and insisted that the state execute her. In a well-conceived defense, her attorney, Jake Ehrlich, plays on the emotions of the jury by portraying Gertrude Morris as a woman without friends who slaved to put her husband through school and who, at age 44, had been ignored and deceived. The jury buys it and convicts her of manslaughter. She is sentenced to a state prison term of 1 to 10 years.

As she is led away, Gertrude screeches to reporters, “I am a criminal! I murdered someone! I owe the state a life!”

Not satisfied

She then turns to Ehrlich, her lawyer who lost eight pounds during the 10-month trial and looks like a walking corpse. “You missed your vocation. You should have been on the stage … Well, Master, I suppose this is one more feather in your cap? I am not satisfied. I still believe in a life for a life. I am not paying my debt to society. I have no hopes, no longings — nothing!”

Ehrlich’s slogan was Never Plead Guilty and he later wrote a book with that title. His list of clients included notables such as Alexander Pantages, Gene Krupa, Billie Holiday, Errol Flynn, James Mason and Howard Hughes.

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