Midway through his second term as the Utah Territorial Governor, Caleb Walton West received a letter requesting executive clemency and the release of Nellie Berlin from prison.
Nellie had been convicted of grave larceny in 1893, although based on the text of the clemency request, her punishment exceeded her crime. The convicting Utah Court could not give her a sentence of less than one year in prison.
Was she released? Let’s find out.
First, let’s read the letter to Governor West.
Territory of Utah
Office of the Secretary
Salt Lake City
23 Jan 1894
Hon. C. W. W. West,
Governor of Utah Territory.
Sir: Nellie Berlin was convicted in the 4th Dist Court several months ago of the crime of Larceny – Grave Larceny. Her case was appealed to the Supreme Court and _____ below affirmed. Utah Court could not impose a sentence for less than one year, while in fact in the case disclose a condition of Miral deprant awe? guilt on her part. Yet our account of her sex and punishment already inflicted, I think it is proper to recommend executive clemency in her case.
James A. Miner.
James A. Miner became the Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court from 1901 – 1903.
What crime did Nellie commit to receive a year prison sentence? The 18 Jan 1894 issue of The Salt Lake Herald tells the story:
A week later, Nellie’s case is again a headline article in the newspaper. It provides further detail about her crime and the subsequent trial.
The initial conviction was overturned. Nellie’s charges were sent to Ogden for a new trial. How did Lena Wright have the guile to bring charges against Nellie? Lena hired Nellie to commit murder so she could marry the newly widowed Mr. Morris. Is this an episode of “Housewives of Utah”?
How did the case get to this point with so many ‘NUTS” involved? Let’s look at the genesis of the case through the eyes of newspaper reporters.
Brief blubs about Nellie pepper newspaper crime columns throughout 1893 and 1894. This story was too good to let readers forget it for a second.
Remember the ringside score. Nellie’s case was overturned. Judges, lawyers, witnesses and citizens are constantly at odds. The atmosphere of comedy is never far from the minds of everyone, but being in prison wasn’t humorous to Nellie as noted in several articles that detail a reporters visit to her prison cell. She hid her face in arms and refused to talk.
The case went back and forth, from jury to jury. When original case was overturned this tiny blurb was nestled at the bottom of the crime column of the Salt Lake Tribune on 24 Mar 1894.
You can imagine the feelings going through Nellie’s mind as well as the enthralled populace of Utah. If the charges and case were in the newspapers and on the Internet today, Nellie would be famous worldwide. She would have her own Real Life TV show. People would follow her every move, photograph and inane comment just like they do with the mindless body flashers of today.
On 20 Apr 1894 an even shorter blurb appeared at the very bottom of the crime column of the Ogden Standard newspaper. This is where we entered this story, with a letter from James A. Miner, the high court officer to Governor Caleb Walton West requesting a pardon for Nellie. The news blurb tells us why he authored the letter. The case had been dismissed!
No doubt Nellie learned her lesson. You don’t accept a job to murder someone’s wife. You don’t steal the payment for that dastardly deed. You don’t think that lying about the death of the contract hit is going to fool anyone for more than a few days.
Was the $100 worth it, Nellie? Were you really a murderer or just a thief? Was your boyfriend really a boyfriend or just a freeloading creep? Did the Territory of Utah put their smartest and brightest on the case so they wouldn’t look foolish during the trial?
Hindsight is 20 / 20 but the whole episode has gone down in history as a plot that would be popular on TV today. Immoral. Brainless. Totally foolish escapism.
It would probably be a hit episode. It might even win an Emmy.