[JURIST] A judge in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] ruled [petitioner press release] on Tuesday that the government must unseal most of the grand jury testimony from the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg espionage case [trial transcript, PDF; JURIST backgrounder]. In January, George Washington University's National Security Archive petitioned the court [text, PDF; memorandum, PDF] for the release of the transcripts, arguing that "The overwhelming historical interest outweighs any secrecy interests that may have survived." The government responded [brief, PDF] in June:
The Government does not dispute that the Rosenberg atomic spy trial is a case of significant historical importance within the meaning of the "special circumstances" exception, and does not oppose the entry of an Order unsealing the grand jury testimony of those Rosenberg grand jury witnesses who are deceased or who consent to disclosure, i.e. 35 of the 45 witnesses who testified before the grand jury. The Government, however, opposes disclosure of the testimony of the remaining witnesses who either: (1) object to disclosure; or (2) are not deceased and cannot be located to determine their position on disclosure. As to these witnesses, the public's forward looking interest in ensuring that future grand jury witnesses are not dissuaded from coming forward and testifying in high profile cases trumps the need for disclosure at this time.The federal judge ordered the disclosure of 36 witnesses' testimony and encouraged the government to quickly locate any living witnesses to seek their permission to release the testimony. The National Security Archive specifically requested [brief, PDF] that the judge unseal the testimony of Ethel Rosenberg's brother and key witness David Greenglass [profile], but the judge denied the request because Greenglass objected to the release of his testimony. The New York Times has more. CNN has additional coverage.
The grand jury testimony from the case was given in 1950 and 1951, and the grand jury subsequently indicted the Rosenbergs for 11 distinct acts in violation of US espionage statutes [50 USC 4 materials]. A jury found them guilty of the charges [verdict transcript] in 1953, and they were sentenced to death and executed the same year.