"When you write my obituary, please don't say that I was accused of treason," Morton Sobell told the New York Times in 1998. Wish granted. The third figure in the famous 1951 spying case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg—found guilty of conspiracy against the US, a charge Sobell once likened to "talking about espionage"—died in Manhattan on Dec. 26, his son confirmed Wednesday, per the Times. He was 101. Overshadowed by his co-defendants, who were executed in 1953, Sobell served almost 18 years of a 30-year sentence in federal prison before his release in 1969. The son of Russian immigrants would maintain his innocence for another four decades before finally admitting to stealing classified military documents for the Soviets beginning at the end of World War II, though he stressed that he provided no information on the atomic bomb, per the Washington Post.
Prosecutors alleged the Rosenbergs helped the Soviets replicate the bomb, though many believe their roles in the case were exaggerated. Indeed, Sobell argued Ethel was only guilty "of being Julius' wife." Sobell, however, was said to have passed military secrets to Julius, his college classmate, while working in General Electric's aircraft and marine engineering division. Sobell eventually fled to Mexico, where he was apprehended in August 1950. In prison, he befriended convicted murderer Robert Stroud. After his release, he worked in medical electronics and developed a low-cost hearing aid. "I thought the USSR was a genuine socialist country and this was the ideal," he later told the Wall Street Journal of his spying role. The Times sees its lasting impact in crafting "an unbridgeable fault line that would open an enduring gulf between liberals and conservatives." (Ethel might still be cleared.)