Trial & Execution
Ellis had no legal representation at the police station or at the special hearing at Hampstead Magistrates Court on April 11. Her calmness was striking; her guilt wasn’t in doubt, nor was the fact that the murder was cold and calculating. At the police station after the killing, she said: “When I put the gun in my bag, I intended to find David and shoot him.” At the Magistrates Court, she said: “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. I will hang.”
As she awaited trial, the prison guards noted that she was quiet and cooperative, and acted as if she was attending a tea party rather than sitting in a penitentiary. While in jail, her black hair roots started to show and, against her lawyer’s advice, she dyed it platinum blonde again. He was concerned that having such a striking appearance would turn the jury against her.
The trial took place at London’s Old Bailey on June 20, 1955. It was an open and shut case; not least because Ellis admitted her guilt. When asked what she intended to do when she shot Blakely at close range, she replied: “It’s obvious when I shot him that I intended to kill him.” The jury deliberated for just 20 minutes before delivering a guilty verdict. Unlike in the United States, there was no ‘degree’ of murder so, in those days, an individual convicted of murder received a death sentence.
Execution & Aftermath
Ellis drank a bit of brandy on the morning of her execution, July 13, 1955. She was condemned to hang at 9 a.m., and as always, hangman Albert Pierrepoint completed his duties with no trouble. When the body was taken down at 10 a.m., an autopsy was conducted, and it confirmed that the 28-year-old died almost immediately.
Attempts at a posthumous pardon were rejected, but the question remains: Did Ruth Ellis deserve to die? There is no doubt that she murdered David Blakely in cold blood, but the modern-day justice system might have seen things a little differently (even allowing for the abolition of the death penalty in the UK). Although Ellis was deemed ‘legally sane’ in a prison examination, it seems certain that she suffered from post-traumatic stress. Remember, Ellis was abused throughout her life, and the brutality she suffered at the hands of David Blakely was probably the final straw.
Ellis didn’t help her cause; in fact, she seemed determined to die. At no stage did she present herself as a victim, she admitted her guilt and showed a calm, almost cold exterior that made it impossible to feel sympathy for her. Her behavior in prison was especially odd; it was almost as if she had no idea what was happening. As for her execution, Pierrepoint remarked: “I have seen some brave men die, but nobody braver than her.”
If she committed the crime today, Ellis likely wouldn’t receive a life sentence because ‘diminished responsibility’ would be a plausible defense in her case. International pressure placed on Britain, along with a petition in the UK, led to the suspension of the death penalty in 1965 and its abolition in 1969.