Criminal Justice

Convicted in 1950 spy case, 98-year-old woman asks court to 'correct this historical wrong'

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A 98-year-old retired school teacher filed a petition on Tuesday asking a court to void her conviction in a 1950 spy case, deeming the conviction a “miscarriage of justice from the McCarthy era.”

In her petition (PDF), Miriam Moskowitz points to grand jury transcripts unsealed in 2008 that contradict a KGB courier’s allegation that Moskowitz knew of a conspiracy to lie about atomic espionage. Reuters and the Wall Street Journal Law Blog have stories. “Now is the time, before it’s too late, to correct this historical wrong,” the petition says. Moskowitz served two years in prison after the conviction.

Moskowitz had worked as a secretary for co-defendant Abraham Brothman, with whom she was having an affair. Both were convicted of conspiring to obstruct justice by lying to a grand jury investigating espionage. The KGB courier, Harry Gold, had testified that Moskowitz was present when he and Brothman discussed the story they would tell the grand jury. He was the only witness against Moskowitz.

Moskowitz’s petition claims Gold changed his story and testified against Moskowitz after the government threatened him with the death penalty. “It was manifest legal error for Harry Gold’s irreconcilable statements to the FBI and testimony before the grand jury to be hidden from the defense for nearly 60 years, particularly when that testimony and those statements go directly to whether Ms. Moskowitz knew of and assented to a conspiracy,” the petition says.

Pro bono lawyers at Baker Botts filed the petition for a writ of error coram nobis on behalf of Moskowitz. The petition says Moskowitz kept a low profile after the conviction, which she largely blames for never marrying and never having children. Lost job opportunities also had a big financial impact, the petition says.

Moskowitz tells Reuters she is probably the last living victim of the McCarthy era. “I’m at the end of my life, and I want to clear my name,” she said.

Updated at 11:10 a.m. to correct wrong word.

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