DA Who Inspired a Law & Order Character Dies

Longtime Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau dies at age 99
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 22, 2019 6:01 AM CDT
Updated Jul 22, 2019 6:52 AM CDT
DA Who Inspired a Law & Order Character Dies
Robert Morgenthau speaks at the Museum of Jewish Heritage on Sept. 12, 2018, in New York.   (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

He drew a guilty plea from "Preppy Killer" Robert Chambers, helped put John Lennon's killer behind bars, and even inspired Law & Order character Adam Schiff. Now, Robert Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney feared by white-collar criminals in New York City for 35 years, has died at the age of 99, per the Wall Street Journal. Morgenthau's wife, journalist Lucinda Franks, says he died at Lenox Hill Hospital after a brief illness, reports the New York Times, which calls Morgenthau the "bane of mobsters, crooked politicians and corporate greed; a public avenger to killers, rapists, and drug dealers; and a confidant of mayors and governors." The paper also notes a claim to fame it doesn't appear any other prosecutor can make: Morgenthau is apparently the only one to win a murder conviction against a mother and son, Sante and Kenneth Kimes, without any witnesses or a body.

Morgenthau, born in New York, wasn't the first in his family to make a name for himself: His grandfather Henry Morgenthau Sr. was the US ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and a real estate magnate, while his father, Henry Morgenthau Jr., served as Treasury secretary for FDR. Morgenthau even ran for governor of the Empire State himself, twice, though it didn't pan out. He served in the Navy and took home degrees from Amherst College and Yale Law School before entering private practice in the '50s. By 1961, he'd been appointed US attorney for the Southern District of New York; he was elected Manhattan DA in 1974 and served until 2009, when he told the AP he was retiring because "I looked at my birth certificate and ... said, 'It's about time,'" per the Jerusalem Post. Morgenthau took every case seriously. "Every case is important to the victim" was his catchphrase. He's survived by Franks, seven children by two marriages, six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. (More obituary stories.)

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