NEW YORK (Reuters) - More than six decades ago, Miriam Moskowitz stood in New York federal court and was convicted of lying to a grand jury investigating a Cold War atomic espionage case.
On Monday, the 98-year-old Moskowitz returned to court for the first time since then, this time to ask a federal judge to erase her conviction and remedy what she says was a McCarthy-era injustice.
“It would be a historical acknowledgement that the period itself was so bad for the country,” she said following the brief appearance in New York before U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who set a November hearing date to consider the request. “And it would be my own personal vindication.”
Moskowitz, a retired math teacher from New Jersey, was a secretary at the time of her trial. She was convicted in 1950 alongside her former boss, a chemical engineer named Abraham Brothman with whom she had an affair, for conspiring to obstruct justice and served two years in prison.
Earlier this month, Moskowitz filed a petition seeking to have her conviction thrown out, saying recently unsealed records show a key witness, chemist Harry Gold, lied at her trial about whether she was present when he and Brothman got their stories straight for the grand jury.
Roy Cohn, a lawyer who later worked for Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, the face of anti-Communism in the 1950s, once said the case served as a “dry run” for the prosecution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, convicted of conspiring to pass atomic secrets to Russia.
Moskowitz’s trial judge, Irving Kaufman, also presided over the Rosenberg trial and sentenced them to death.
During Monday’s court hearing, Hellerstein asked prosecutors whether they would be willing to support her request.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Allen said it would be “premature” to say what the government’s position will be.
“We would like to give very serious consideration to the arguments Ms. Moskowitz has raised in her petition,” Allen said.
Moskowitz wrote a book about her experiences, “Phantom Spies, Phantom Justice.” Walking slowly but steadily with the help of a cane, she had trouble hearing what was said in court, prompting Hellerstein to arrange for a live video feed of the transcript for the November hearing so she can follow along.
The bespectacled Moskowitz seemed somewhat taken aback by the number of journalists in attendance; after learning that television cameras were waiting outside, she accepted some lipstick from a friend.
“I need an official vindication,” she said. “That goes into the record and the history books.”
Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Jonathan Oatis