Elizabeth Morgan had her 15 minutes of fame in the 1980s when she fled to New Zealand with her daughter rather than allow her husband to have unsupervised visits with the child. Despite her odd behavior, Morgan had numerous supporters in the United States who saw her as a heroine. Morgan was back in the news recently as a witness in an attempted murder case that highlighted her twisted thinking.
The case involved Elsa D. Newman, who was charged with conspiracy to kill her estranged husband in January 2002. Newman attended a speech given by Morgan and struck up an e-mail correspondent with the activist.
Morgan testified that she believed Newman’s story that her husband was abusing her two boys despite having no more information about the situation than what Newman told her.
In fact, Newman’s husband was awarded full custody of both boys after a bizarre incident witnessed by Newman’s attorney, Stephen A. Friedman. Friedman asked a judge to recuse him from being her lawyer after Newman made a threat against the lives of the two boys. At the murder trial, Friedman testified that,
[Newman] gets real calm, tilts her head back and says in this sing-songy voice, ‘You know I don’t have to kill both kids.’
But after a few e-mails, Morgan was convinced that Newman was right and her husband was abusing the two boys. So what advice did Morgan give Newman? In an e-mail she told Newman that she had three choices — go along with the court’s order, defy the court, or “kill” the abuser.
On the stand, Morgan testified,
I told her what I tell everybody when they contact me. You don’t have any good choices. You can say, “I’ve been to court, and I will obey the court and send my child back.” The other thing you can do is defy the court order. That usually means running . . . The third option is to take the law into your own hands and attack the abuser.
Newman took Morgan’s advice. She paid a friend to kill her husband, but he managed to fend off the would-be killer after being shot in the leg. One would hope that at some point, the husband will include Morgan in a civil suit for such outrageous behavior.
Morgan describes advising Md. defendant. Annie Gowen, Washington Post, August 3, 2002.