The Rosenbergs refused to “give up” any of their co-conspirators or plead guilty themselves. Julius was accused of passing on the blueprint of an implosion atomic bomb and Ethel of typing up the notes. The couple remained defiant throughout the trial and pled the Fifth Amendment when asked about their involvement with the Communist Party. On March 29, 1951, the Rosenbergs were convicted of espionage and sentenced to death by electrocution. A campaign began immediately to prevent their execution.
Demonstrators carry signs pleading for clemency for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
Mainstream Jewish organizations refused to come to their aid; even the ACLU claimed no violations had been committed by the prosecution. Others, however, saw the entire episode as a set-up to perpetuate a “red scare” and use the Rosenbergs as scapegoats. The nation was not at war with the Soviets, though they were supporting the North Koreans in that conflict. Prominent Communists and some non-Communists protested long and loud to no avail. President Eisenhower refused amnesty and the Rosenbergs were electrocuted at Sing Sing Prison in New York on June 19, 1953. They were the only two American civilians executed during the cold war. Five hundred people attended their funeral and ten thousand stood outside. The two Rosenberg sons have spent their lifetime trying to get their parents exonerated, or at least their mother. No President has complied. Some scientists estimate that the Rosenbergs and their confederates shortened the Soviet acquisition of the atomic bomb by about one year.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg separated by a wire screen as they leave the U.S. Court House after being found guilty
Espionage can be a dangerous game, but the possibility of executing a spy today in the United States is virtually unthinkable. There are a number of them, however, who have been caught having revealed the names of foreign agents, intelligence “assets,” who were then executed by the Russians or other foreign enemies. Men like Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanson are incarcerated for the rest of their lives.