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Rosenbergs Trial

The Defense

Whereas the prosecution's theory of the case seemed relatively straightforward, the defense's strategy was enigmatic. The defendants' case was fraught with errors, ranging from minor to monumental. Most of these mistakes have been attributed to lead defense attorney Emanuel Bloch.

Bloch's first major mistake occurred during the direct examination of David Greenglass. When the prosecution sought to introduce one of the sketches that Greenglass had drawn, Bloch made a motion, asking the court to impound the exhibit. When the prosecution attempted to question Greenglass about his notes that accompanied the sketches, Bloch asked the court to clear the press and spectators from the courtroom to prevent any further leaks of atomic secrets. The prosecution, who had been expecting Bloch to challenge Greenglass's qualifications to testify as an expert regarding the scientific significance of the sketches, happily concurred with Bloch's dual motions.

As it turns out, the prosecution had reason to be relieved. Several nuclear physicists vehemently disputed whether an ordinary machinist such as Greenglass possessed sufficient experience and educational background to testify or to explain the complex principles behind the atomic bomb. In an effort to obtain executive clemency for the Rosenbergs in 1953, for example, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Harold Urey told President DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER that a "man of Greenglass's capacity is wholly incapable of transmitting the physics, chemistry, and mathematics of the bomb to anyone." Other physicists wondered why the Soviets would even want Greenglass's sketches, as they already had received diagrams of the bomb from Fuchs, a nuclear scientist. Bloch never called any scientists to challenge Greenglass's testimony.

Historians have argued that by failing to challenge Greenglass's scientific expertise and by asking the court to impound his sketches, Bloch convinced the jury that it was about to hear the secret of the atomic bomb. At least one of the Rosenberg jurors agreed with this analysis, stating that it was not until Bloch had asked the court to keep the Greenglass exhibits confidential that he had become impressed with the importance of the trial.

A second major mistake occurred when Bloch failed to cross-examine Gold. Gold was an admitted liar. During a prior legal proceeding, he had told the court that as a result of his espionage activities he "had become so tangled up in a web of lies that it was easier to continue telling an occasional lie than to try and straighten out the whole hideous mess." When the impeachment value of this prior testimony is coupled with the large number of glaring inconsistencies between Gold's testimony during the Rosenbergs' trial and his pretrial accounts of the same events, Bloch's decision against cross-examining Gold looms larger.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Roberts v. United States Jaycees to Secretary of StateRosenbergs Trial - The Prosecution's Case, The Defense, The Controversy Continues, Further Readings