1951 – Rosenbergs Become First U.S. Civilians to Receive Death Penalty


On this day in 1951, after a highly publicized trial, death sentences were imposed on Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, found guilty of conspiring to transmit atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. The Rosenberg case began with the arrest of physicist Klaus Fuchs, an acknowledged  Communist who confessed to passing to the Soviets classified information about the U.S. atomic program, which the German-born scientist had obtained while employed at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where a nuclear weapon was being designed.

David Greenglass, a machinist at Los Alamos, was arrested as an accomplice. In July 1950, Ethel Rosenberg, the sister of Greenglass, was arrested, along with her husband, Julius. Alleged to have Marxist leanings, the couple was accused of persuading Greenglass to provide another accomplice with atomic secrets. The Rosenbergs, who maintained their innocence, became the first U.S. civilians to receive the death penalty for espionage; they were electrocuted on June 19, 1953.

The death penalty remains a controversial subject among most Americans. The problem is, it is not always possible to be 100 percent certain about one’s guilt or innocence. Unless you are God. He never misses.


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