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FACES BEHIND A STONE WALL: MURIEL MURPHY


There are multiple stories about the women inmates who were incarcerated at the Montana State Prison, but very few had happy endings. There was one exception to this with one of the youngest persons ever sentenced to life in prison.

Fifteen-year-old Muriel Murphy stood accused, with her boyfriend William Newman, of robbing Gust Anderson in Great Falls. Luring him out of a bar, they allegedly hit him over the head and left him lying on the sidewalk. Anderson was sent to the hospital but would die two days later from pneumonia. Even though Anderson did not die from his injuries that were sustained from the altercation, Murphy and Newman stood before the court on first degree murder charges.


Judge H. H. Ewing would hand down a sentence of life in prison and waived the death penalty after the teens claimed that Anderson had grabbed Muriel and would not let her go and that in defending her Newman hit the man over the head. After handing down their sentence, Ewing addressed the two teens: “This sentence does not really mean what it says. You may apply to the executive department and when the time comes, I will do all I can.”

Muriel and William served three years and then, on conditional paroles, left the penitentiary in Deer Lodge, Montana. They would eventually leave the state, get married, and start a family of their own. Clerk of the State Board of Examiners, W. L. Fitzsimmons, periodically contacted the Newmans as a condition of their parole. Ten years later, Fitzsimmons would write the Newmans a final letter stating that they had fulfilled the conditions of their parole and that all rights of citizenship lost by their conviction were officially restored.

Fitzsimmons, in an expression of goodwill, wished the Newmans the best of luck and success and that he hope they would stay in touch.

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