HELEN BECKER TRIES TO SAVE HER HUSBAND’S LIFE

Even though all methods to save Charles Becker’s life had been exhausted, Helen Becker would not give up without a fight. On July 29, she arrived at the Governor’s mansion at 11:30 a.m., accompanied by Becker’s co-counsel, John Johnson. When she arrived, Mrs. Becker was dismayed to discover Governor Whitman had left Albany and had traveled to Camp Whitman, near Fishkill, New York. The Governor did receive a telegram in advance notifying him about Mrs. Becker’s arrival, but he left her a letter saying that he had been summoned away from Albany (no reason was given) and would meet her at 6:30 p.m. in the Governor’s mansion. That didn’t happen either and it appeared as if Governor Whitman was ducking Helen Becker at all costs. When she learned the Governor was not in Albany, Helen Becker was crestfallen. She had planned not to ask the Governor to commute her husband’s sentence, but on the advice of her attorneys, instead to reprieve her husband’s sentence until October, when the New York Court of Appeals convened again. At that time, Becker’s attorney would put in an appeal for a new trial based on new evidence. Becker’s attorneys did not disclose what that new evidence was and they seemed just to be stalling for time. However, there had been some speculation, that in order to save his own life, Becker was willing to plead guilty to second-degree murder. This notion was struck down when Becker’s chief counsel Manton said from his office in New York City, “There is absolutely no truth in the statement that Becker offered to plead guilty to murder in the second degree, or to any degree, so far as I know. Certainly no such offer was made while I was counsel. Becker will go to the chair with a dying declaration of innocence.” With his execution less than 24 hours away, Becker asked for a copy of the day’s daily newspaper. Ignoring the pleas of Father Cashin that he no longer be concerned about worldly things, Becker devoured every word in the newspaper concerning his present predicament. He became outraged when he read that he had agreed to plea guilty to murder in the second degree. Becker became even further unhinged when he read that someone in Albany had released a statement that Becker’s first wife’s death was “suspicious.” Becker was trembling when he told the priest, “I want to deny those falsehoods. I want to set myself right in the eyes of the world.” Becker asked for a stenographer, and with the help of Father Cashin, he penned a scathing report to the press, denying any plea to a lesser degree. He also vigorously castigated Governor Whitman for allowing the statement to be published that Becker’s first wife’s death was somehow suspicious. Becker insisted his first wife died of consumption after a long bout with tuberculosis. Becker spent the rest of the daylight hours writing a series of letters to friends and relatives that he did not want mailed until after his death. The bulkiest letter he wrote was to Governor Whitman. This scathing letter, which was released to the press after Becker’s execution said, in part: “I am as innocent as you of having murdered Herman Rosenthal, or having counseled, procured, or aided his murder, or of having any knowledge of that dreadful crime. Mark well, sir, these words of mine. When your power passes, then the truth of Rosenthal’s murder will

become known. But not while your nominees remain District Attorneys and can hold the club over these persons. With the aid of judges who were misled into misconceiving the testimony offered on my trial and into misstating it both to the jury and on appeal, you have proved yourself able to destroy my life. But believe me; I will surrender it without rancor. Not all the judges in this state, nor in this country, nor the Governor of this state, nor the District Attorney, nor all of them combined, can destroy permanently the character of an innocent man.” ---- CHARLES BECKER It wasn’t until 9 p.m. on the night before her husband’s execution that Helen Becker was finally able to receive an audience with Governor Whitman. However, the meeting wasn’t in the Executive Mansion, but in a room in the Nelson House in Poughkeepsie, where the Governor had decided to spend the night. (The governor, probably trying to duck the press until after Becker was dead, never returned to the Executive Mansion that night.) Mrs. Becker was still accompanied by her husband’s co-counsel, John Johnson. Johnson entered Whitman’s room first, while Mrs. Becker waited in an adjoining room. Johnson extended his hand to the Whitman. Whitman took it and said to Johnson, “Mr. Johnson, I am here to do whatever I can, as a governor and a citizen, for your client.” Johnson pleaded with Whitman to give Becker a stay of execution until October, when the New York State Court of Appeals came back into session. Johnson said he believed he could convince the appellate division that Justice Ford had erred in refusing to grant Becker a new trial. Johnson spoke for about 15 minutes, but Whitman overruled every plea from Johnson, saying he could do nothing. When he was finished listening to Johnson, Whitman told him, “I am now ready to see Mrs. Becker.” Whitman entered the adjoining room and Helen Becker rose to greet him. No handshake was offered by either person. Whitman told Mrs. Becker, “Mrs. Becker I am now ready to hear anything you have to offer new in this case. I will consider any confidence you wish to make at this time.” Mrs. Becker was distraught. She tried to stand straight, but her shoulders slumped in exhaustion. “There is nothing new and I have nothing to tell you in confidence,” she said. “But I do ask for sufficient delay to provide a view of Justice Ford’s decision.” The governor shook his head. “That is impossible. I’m sorry, but I can take no action.” Mrs. Becker started sobbing softly. “But surely a delay will not defeat the ends of justice,” she said. Then without warning, Mrs. Becker’s soft sobs transformed into a convulsion of wails. Unable to catch her breath, and with walls of tears cascading down both sides of her face, she fell face-forward in a faint towards the governor. Governor Whitman caught her against his chest and laid her gently on the floor. A doctor had to be called in to revive Mrs. Becker. After she regained consciousness, and before she and Mr. Johnson left the hotel, Governor Whitman did throw a small bone to Mrs. Becker. He ordered his aide, Major Moore, to telephone Sing Sing Prison to tell Warden Osborne that the rule a condemned man cannot have any visitors after 12 a.m. be done away with in the case of Mrs. Becker. And that she should be allowed to stay with her husband as long as the warden deemed proper. Mrs. Becker thanked Whitman for his small kindness, but before she left she told him, “I know my husband is no saint, but he is not as black as he’s been branded.”

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