Prominent Former Prosecutors Fight for Death Row Inmate's Life

Former Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau has joined two other former prosecutors in filing an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of William Kuenzel, an Alabama death row inmate sentenced to death in 1988. New evidence emerged in 2010 raising doubts about his guilt. According to Morgenthau’s brief, two witnesses who testified against Kuenzel gave entirely different accounts that did not identify him when they first met with authorities. One of the witnesses admitted being involved in the murder. Morgenthau, who retired from the D.A.’s office in 2009 at the age of 90, asked Gil Garcetti, former Los Angeles District Attorney, and E. Michael McCann, former District Attorney of Milwaukee, to join him in asking the Supreme Court to hear the case. The three men each served over 30 years as prosecutor, and oversaw a total of more than 7 million cases. Morgenthau said he always opposed the death penalty and felt he had to act in Kuenzel’s case because it reminded him of the Central Park Jogger case, in which he helped reverse the convictions of five teenagers originally convicted of rape and attempted murder. Of the death penalty, which was in place in New York from 1995 to 2007, he said, “[W]e reduced murder by 90 percent and never once sought it.”

(J. Dwyer, “Even at 93, He Finds a Case Too Important to Pass Up,” New York Times, March 14, 2013; photo, Morgenthau in 1988, D.A.’s office). See New Voices and Representation.