On December 12, 1927, Val was formally charged with First Degree Murder, as indicted by the Grand Jury in Painesville Municipal Court before Judge Marvin Helter.

Val screamed when she heard the judge order her held without bail and collapsed on a chair and slowly slid to the floor.  Her mother and the deputy ran to her, but she was already recovered by the time that they reached her, and she pushed them away. 

“It can’t be; it just can’t be”, she wailed.

“It wasn’t planned, You know it wasn’t I don’t see how they could do it! If they had been there when it happened, I know that they would have looked at it differently!” she finished.

She then rose to her feet and looked around the room and started hysterically crying which ended up in a second swooning fit.  She then left the room on the arm of Big Ed Rassmussen out to the fire escape to get some air. 

When she returned, she seemed to be more in control.  Her defense lawyer pled for a lesser charge so that she would be allowed bail but was denied. 

Judge Helter spoke to the crowded courtroom that spilled out into the hall and called the murder, “The most unspeakable crime in the history of Lake county.” 

Val then fainted again.  Her uncle told reporters that she thought that the Judge Helter had sentenced her to death.  Val was tormented by thoughts of the Electric Chair especially after Ruth Snyder in New York was sentenced to die by the Electric Chair in Sing-Sing prison. 

Reporters reached out to Clarence Darrow, (remember him? He defended Emma Simpson) for a comment.  He told reporters, “Velma West was brought up on velvet.  She married and went to a life in the moralled, dull small town.  Like any other woman that was brought up in luxury and with companions used to luxury and independence, she naturally reacted against everyone and everything when forced to continue the cramped, small town life.  It was as if she was locked in a gloom, overwhelming, restraining room away from the things her heart yearned for and in a frenzy of rebellious passion broke down. “

Darrow further stated that Val need medical treatment and not punishment.

Lawyers with Their Defendant Velma West

On February 18, 1928, prospective jurors were called for the trial.  The jury pool consisted of thirty-two men and sixteen women.

March 5, 1928, exactly three months to the day of the murder,  the trial began.  Velma West was self-possessed as she entered the courtroom wearing a gray fur coat over a knee length black silk dress.  There was a huge crowd of people fighting for seats, which were all filled an hour before the court was scheduled to begin.  Almost all the spectators were women.  But the trial was delayed as Judge J.D. Barnes met with attorneys from both sides. 

While the trial was delayed, she gave an interview to a reporter.   “I’m ready for the ordeal”, she told the reporter.  She also tried to explain that she was not the sophisticated flapper that the press had made her out to be.  Velma said that she had tried to settle down in Perry and be a real housewife and had dreamed of having babies. 

While Val was giving her interview, and stressing about being sent to the electric chair, startling new evidence showed up. 

Mabel Young

Mabel Young, Val’s best friend sent an eight-page letter to the Sherriff.  In it she revealed many of the details of Val’s activities before the murder. The letter was said to tell the true nature of Mabel and Val’s relationship.  The letter was not made public, but if the trial were to go forward it would involve a 17 year old girl that had not been mentioned before.

“Velma’s intense desire to break the shackles married life and get away from her husband to do what she wished was the motive for the slaying”, stated the sheriff.

The sheriff then recapped the crime, stating that Mabel Young was the person having the all-night girl party that Velma West drove the 35 miles from Perry after murdering her husband and burning her bloody clothes in the furnace. 

 Val re-entered the courtroom, removed her fur coat sat and waited for the trial to begin.  As soon as the court began her chief counsel Francis Poulson stood and stated, “The defendant, Velma West, offers to plead guilty of murder in the second degree.” 

Seth Paulin, the prosecutor then rose.  “Your honor, my associate, Homer Harper and myself have considered the question of accepting this plea offered by counsel for the defense and we recommend that it be accepted.”

Prosecutor Seth Paulin

Paulin then motioned for Velma to stand up and she did and stood beside him in front of the judge. 

Judge Barnes then addressed her, “Is it your decision – to plead guilty of murder in the second degree?”

“It is”, she whispered.

“Have you anything to say at this time as to why the court should not now pass sentence?” asked the judge in tones that a father would use in addressing his daughter.

“No, sir. I have not.” Said Velma nervously clasping and unclasping her hands. 

“This matter of you being allowed to plead guilty in the second degree did not come up suddenly.  The lawyers took the matter up with the court and asked what they should do under the circumstances. We went over the matter thoroughly.  I also consulted with Judge A. G. Reynolds. “

“This court and Judge Reynolds came to the conclusion that in view of the evidence the state could not expect to get a conviction higher than second degree.  I do not think that it is time for talking about the case, the community knows all about it.  It has had its regrettable aspects.  The mandate of the law is the most potent of all and that mandate has to be fulfilled.

“Never before in my career as a judge have, I sentenced a woman in a case of this kind.

“The law says that the punishment for second degree murder shall be confinement in the reformatory for women for the rest of your natural life.  That is the sentence that this court imposes upon you.”

As Velma West returned to her seat her father and attorney tried to cheer her up telling her that Second Degree murder is eligible for parole after ten years.  Unfortunately, if Velma were released, she wouldn’t get to see Mabel Young.  Mabel worked for the Cleveland Clinic and a disastrous fire broke out there in May 1929, and Mabel lost her life in the fire.

Prosecutor Paulin stated, “We decided to accept the guilty plea to save the parents of the murdered man and also the witnesses that had to be called.”

The West family, Eddie’s parents, financially and politically powerful had hoped to avoid a trial.

Big Ed and Val

SO, story over!  Velma off to Marysville Women’s Reformatory and that’s it…

Not quite… 

Tuesday we’ll be talking about the big prison break of 1939!

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