Gertrude Morris Trial: 1952
Defendant Flees Courtroom
When Rose Goolo took the stand, Morris fled hysterically into the judge's chambers, the only time she ever showed any interest or animation during the trial. Brought back sobbing into court, she heard Goolo admit that Milton Morris drove her to work, took her out to lunch "three or four times a week," and that he drove her home each night after work.
"What was your relationship with Morris?" demanded Ehrlich.
"I was his secretary."
"Any more than that?"
"No," she said primly, though later she conceded that they were "friends" and that Milton Morris bought her perfume.
In his closing speech it was noticeable that Elkington refrained from asking for the death penalty. But that didn't prevent him from heaping scorn on what he termed "Mr. Ehrlich's story." This prompted the pugnacious Ehrlich to square up to his much bigger opponent and shout, "If you indicate that I make up stories, Mr. Elkington, you are a common, ordinary street liar." Again, the gallery roared its approval.
After calm had been restored, Elkington got back on track. "She shot him … she saw him fall. She heard him cry, 'Get a doctor.' And she did not get a doctor. She walked away and let him bleed to death." Then Elkington delivered an earnest plea to the jury to exercise caution when heeding Ehrlich. "He is resourceful. He is an attorney you can count on to come up with an unexpected defense. If it succeeds, you will hear about it in the future as the clever defense in the Morris Case."
Elkington had good cause for concern. Ehrlich's peroration—an emotion-packed saga of a marriage gone wrong—was superb, culminating in a scornful assault on Milton Morris' attempts to placate his distraught wife with offers of jewelry. "What good is it to give a diamond ring if, as Mrs. Morris testified, he never put his arms around her… She didn't want any diamond ring, she wanted her husband." More than one juror had to wipe away a tear by the time Ehrlich sat down.
On February 11, 1952, Gertrude Morris was convicted of manslaughter, and she later received a jail term of 1—10 years. Allegedly, upon hearing the verdict, she turned to the flamboyant Ehrlich and said, "You are a very talented man, you missed your vocation on the stage … But maybe hanging [sic] would have been the best thing."
Suggestions for Further Reading
Ehrlich, J.W. A Lie in My Hands. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1965.
Noble, John Wesley and Bernard Averbuch. Never Plead Guilty. New York: Farrar, Strauss, Cudahy, 1955.