98-year-old woman fights to overturn McCarthy-era conspiracy conviction
A woman who was convicted of conspiracy to obstruct justice in what prosecutors called “a dry run” for the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg trial is seeking to have her conviction overturned, the Los Angeles Times reports.
In 1950, Miriam Moskowitz and her married lover, Abraham Brothman, were convicted of conspiring to lie to federal investigators. The basis of their conviction was the testimony of a confessed Soviet agent, Harry Gold, who testified against them in order to avoid a possible death sentence on espionage charges.
According to the government, after the Federal Bureau of Investigations questioned Brothman about he and Gold’s activities, Brothman told Gold that “the FBI was just here. They know everything. They know all about us. They know that you were a courier” for a Soviet spy.
Brothman then told Gold, “you have got to tell the same story I did.” At Moskowitz’s trial, Gold claimed that she was present during this and similar conversations.
But documents released in 2008 revealed that Gold had lied to prosecutors, changing his story in a way that Moskowitz’s attorneys characterize as “an error of the most fundamental character” that “rendered the proceeding itself irregular and invalid.”
Gold was the only witness against Moskowitz at her trial, during which he testified that she had been present when he and Brothman concocted the lies they would tell FBI agents. On the strength of that testimony, she was convicted on felony conspiracy charges and sentenced to two years in prison.
However, he told the FBI that he “recalls telling BROTHMAN practically nothing in MOSKOWITZ’ [sic] presence but later, after all had returned to the laboratory and MOSKOWITZ had gone out for coffee or something, they [Brothman and Gold] talked of their stories to the agents.”
“With regard to MIRIAM MOSKOWITZ,” Gold stated that “he never discussed his espionage activity in her presence when he could avoid it, as he distrusted her because of her violent temper. He felt that someday after one of the many arguments she was having with BROTHMAN she would, out of spite, go to the authorities and report them.”
“Also,” he said, “MOSKOWITZ made him uncomfortable and unhappy, and he stayed away from her.”
He told the grand jury a similar story, saying that “[w]hen Moskowitz went out on an errand, possibly to obtain some coffee, I related to Brothman in detail the [fictitious] story that I had told” to the FBI. Moreover, he said that he had told Brothman that “no one knew of any of my other activities,” and he suggested that “he should not mention any other activities of mine in from of anyone, particularly Miriam Moskowitz.”
Four months later, at her trial, he changed his story, implicating Moskowitz in his criminal conspiracy with her lover, Abraham Brothman.
Moskowitz said that she has been haunted by the conviction, telling the Times that in addition to never having had the opportunity to vote or serve on a jury, she also eschewed serious relationships for fear that her suitor would learn of the conviction.
“I would have wanted [marriage and children very dearly,” she said. “If [the conviction] had never happened, I’d have had a houseful of children. By now, grandchildren, great-grandchildren.”
She is petitioning to have the court vacate her conviction, but the government — represented by United States Attorney Preet Bharara — argues that Moskowitz has cherry-picked details from the grand jury testimony in order to “manufacture an inconsistency” and that “[h]er 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.”