In a case addressing the violent end of an unlikely romance that spanned six decades, an 81-year-old West Baltimore woman received a three-year suspended sentence yesterday after pleading guilty to manslaughter for shooting her husband.
Before approving the plea agreement for Emma Engrum, Baltimore Circuit Judge Clifton J. Gordy said, "I don't believe she is a danger to anyone else on this planet from this point on."
The judge added, however, that he would not grant the woman's request for probation before judgment -- which would have left her with no criminal record -- because she had killed her husband with no legal justification. After finding her guilty of involuntary manslaughter, he placed her on two years of unsupervised probation.
Mrs. Engrum, a stroke victim who uses a walker, had to be helped to and from the trial table. Early in the hearing, she answered Judge Gordy's questions in a strong voice, and later told the judge about her love for her husband.
By then, she had already been moved to tears by her lawyer's description of an on-again, off-again love affair that deteriorated in its last years as her husband, Jarrett Engrum, became abusive.
The Engrums were childhood sweethearts in Louisiana, but the woman broke off the relationship after her grandmother complained that Mr. Engrum did not bring gifts when he came courting, assistant public defender Mary Jo Livingston said. They married others, and were reunited decades later when Mr. Engrum returned to Louisiana for his sister's funeral and asked if there were any older ladies in town to date.
They were married in 1987, and the first three years of their union were "heaven," Ms. Livingston said. But later years were more difficult, the lawyer said.
The wife's frustrations boiled over Jan. 31, the day she shot her 84-year-old husband.
Prosecutor Ilene Nathan said Mrs. Engrum told police that her husband drank most of a pint of gin that day and then began "acting up" by turning off a light and television in the bedroom at the couple's home in the 2200 block of Clifton Ave. Mrs. Engrum said she went downstairs to the kitchen, carrying a flashlight and .32-caliber revolver, the prosecutor said.
The woman told police that Mr. Engrum then turned off a TV and light in the kitchen and said, "I'm a man. Don't tell me what to do." After he pushed her, Mrs. Engrum shot him, Ms. Nathan told the court.
The woman initially told police, "I'm tired of him beating on me so I shot him to end it." But she later said she had meant to shoot him in the arm so he would leave her alone, the prosecutor said.
The plea agreement was supported by members of Mr. Engrum's family, the lawyers said.