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Martha Beck Trial: 1949

The Kiss In The Courtroom

Opening June 9, 1949, the trial produced a torrent of sensational testimony as both defendants, apparently eager to prove their lack of sanity, burned the jurors' ears with lengthy streams of obscenity that described the intensity of their love life. What the court stenographers recorded could not be printed even by New York City's most torrid press. But the news reporters could describe how, when called to the witness stand, Martha Beck strode forward in bright green shoes, her massive body swathed in bright silks, a double-strand necklace clinking brightly, and suddenly detoured across the courtroom to Fernandez. Catching his face in her hefty hands, she pulled it toward her, kissing him on the mouth and, as the guards pulled her away, leaving him with a grin of bright red lipstick.

Following prosecutor Edward Breslin's straightforward presentation of the blood-curdling facts, the defense set out to prove insanity. Beck testified to four attempts to commit suicide, said her mind was a blank on the actual killings, and denied trying to shield Fernandez. A psychiatrist declared her mentally unsound and said that, even if she participated in the killing, she had no idea what she was doing. Defense attorney Herbert Rosenberg, contending that Beck had killed Fay in a fit of insanity inspired by jealousy, tried to prove that Fernandez had no part in the crime.

Charging the jury, Judge Ferdinand Pecora, referring to acts of perversion admitted by the defendants, said, "That kind of abnormality does not, in and of itself, constitute the kind of insanity which will excuse a person of a criminal act."

After debating for 12½ hours, the jury convicted Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez of first-degree murder. The death sentence was mandatory. The New York State Court of Appeals denied the pair a new trial. Governor Thomas E. Dewey turned down a plea for clemency. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case. Fernandez, claiming he received cruel treatment in Sing Sing Prison, was denied a habeas corpus order.

On March 8, 1951, the lonely-hearts murderers—Fernandez first, then Beck—died in the electric chair in Sing Sing.

Bernard Ryan, Jr.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Brown, Wenzel. Introduction to Murder: The Unpublished Facts Behind the Notorious Lonely Hearts Killer, Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez. New York: Greenberg, 1952.

Jones, Richard Glyn. Killer Conples. Secaucus, N.J.: Lyle Stuart, 1987.

Sifakis, Carl. The Encyclopedia of American Crime. New York: Facts On File, 1982.

Wilson, Colin. A Criminal History of Mankind. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1984.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953Martha Beck Trial: 1949 - Partnership Thrives, The Kiss In The Courtroom, Suggestions For Further Reading