Jerry Rosenberg; inmate became noted jailhouse lawyer
ALBANY, N.Y. - Jerry Rosenberg, the convicted killer of a police officer who became a tireless jailhouse lawyer and a negotiator during the bloody Attica prison riot, died of natural causes Monday at age 72.
Mr. Rosenberg was New York's longest-serving inmate, spending 46 years in state prisons for a botched 1962 stickup at Brooklyn's Boro Park Tobacco Co. that left two police detectives dead. Mr. Rosenberg had always maintained his innocence.
He was hours away from the electric chair in 1964 when he received the stay that led to a long and eventful prison term.
He was shot in the knee and beaten during the 1971 inmate takeover of Attica prison. Mr. Rosenberg acted as one of the negotiators for the prisoners before the insurrection ended with an all-out assault by police. Eleven prison employees and 32 inmates died.
"He was very much part of the leadership, and paid for it," said Joe Heath, a Syracuse lawyer who knew Mr. Rosenberg from post-Attica litigation.
In 1967, Mr. Rosenberg became the first inmate in the state to earn a law degree behind bars.
By his own count, he was involved with more than 200 lawsuits, earning praise from at least one judge.
Famed left-wing defense lawyer William Kunstler, who knew him from Attica, called Mr. Rosenberg "a very shrewd guy."
Tony Danza played him in the television movie "Doing Life."
Mr. Rosenberg boasted that he won most of his cases, though he failed to persuade a judge that he had completed his life sentence when his heart stopped during surgery.
Mr. Rosenberg had been ailing for years and had been held at the Wende Correctional Facility's medical unit since 2000.
"I'm never going to stop fighting," Mr. Rosenberg told the Associated Press in 1997. "I'll probably be dead in the coffin next to an open law book."
The state's longest-serving inmate is now James Moore, 75, in jail since 1963 after drawing a 20-year-to-life sentence for the murder of a teenage girl in Monroe County, according to state corrections officials.