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Woman, 98, loses bid to get atomic spy case conviction tossed

Miriam Moskowitz, 98, leaves federal court in New York on Thursday after a judge rejected her request to erase her 1950 conviction for conspiracy to obstruct justice. (Associated Press)
Miriam Moskowitz, 98, leaves federal court in New York on Thursday after a judge rejected her request to erase her 1950 conviction for conspiracy to obstruct justice. (Associated Press)
Larry Neumeister Associated Press

NEW YORK – A 98-year-old New Jersey woman lost her bid Thursday to persuade a judge to erase her 1950 conviction for conspiracy to obstruct justice in the run-up to the atomic spying trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein rejected Miriam Moskowitz’s unusual request immediately after hearing oral arguments, saying her lawyers could not show that transcripts of grand jury statements by the lone witness against her would have changed her trial’s result. As he left the bench, he wished her well and told her it was a pleasure to have her in his court.

Moskowitz, who lives in Washington Township in Bergen County, New Jersey, served a two-year prison sentence after her conspiracy conviction.

“OK, that’s the end,” a cheerful Moskowitz, walking with a cane toward spectators, told a film crew that has been following her. “You can finish your documentary now.”

Outside court, she said she was disappointed and referenced the McCarthy era, when fear of communism was rampant in the United States and a blacklist made it hard for some to find work.

“Too bad,” Moskowitz said of Hellerstein’s ruling. “My 98-year-old life goes on, and it’s not affected me one way or the other except I am disappointed because it reflects … the prejudice of the McCarthy era.”

She added: “The decision today doesn’t help understand that era.”

The government had opposed Moskowitz’s request, saying her conviction was supported by the evidence and that she conspired with two men to lie to a grand jury investigating allegations of atomic espionage.

“Her claims, even if taken at face value, are insufficient to establish an error under today’s law, let alone the law when she was convicted in 1950,” prosecutors said in court papers.

Moskowitz’s lawyers said FBI and grand jury statements by the key government witness against her – Harry Gold – were withheld from the defense. They said the papers showed that Gold repeatedly told the FBI that Moskowitz was unaware of plans by others to lie before the grand jury until the government threatened him with the death penalty.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Allen told Hellerstein on Thursday that the jury heard statements at trial that were similar to statements Moskowitz’s lawyers claim are new. Gold served about half of a 30-year prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to violating the espionage act.

The Rosenbergs were convicted of passing nuclear weapons secrets to the Soviet Union and were executed in 1953. Since then, decoded Soviet cables have appeared to confirm that Julius Rosenberg was a spy, but doubts have remained about Ethel Rosenberg’s involvement.

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