Former radical Susan Rosenberg told 60 Minutes' Morley Safer she's being kept in jail for a crime she never committed - the notorious 1981 Nanuet, N.Y., Brinks robbery, in which two policemen and a security guard were murdered.
In a rare interview, the 45-year-old inmate - already behind bars 16 years for weapons possession - said even though the Brinks charges against her were dropped and she has never been brought to trial for them, the U.S. Parole Commission continues to cite them as grounds to deny her parole.
"I sat in front of the parole...examiner," Rosenberg told Safer in a prison interview. "He said, 'Miss Rosenberg, you're 11 years clear conduct; you're clearly a different person....I have no doubt about that."
"I can either recommend immediate parole or I can take...the Brinks robbery into account and hold you responsible for three murders,'" she said. "Now I feel as if I'm in prison for an indictment."
Rosenberg's lawyer, Mary O'Melveny, believes the tactic is unprecedented. "It is extraordinary...to say...unproven allegations will make us...keep you in jail...We looked at every case we could find to see if the parole commission had ever done anything like this before and they never had."
Rosenberg has argued this in court to no avail. Though it found the situation "troublesome," a U.S. District Court said Rosenberg could be kept in prison for at least 15 more years on the basis of the untried Brinks charges.
And Rosenberg maintains she was only a political activist and not affiliated with the black militant group that committed the crime. But she was indicted on the word of two group members who had made deals with the government. Subsequently, their testimony against others was seriously challenged in court.
Upon hearing of her indictment, Rosenberg became a fugitive for two years. "I ran....I didn't trust the government," she said. "I was really afraid. I believe now that that was the fatal mistake of my life."
When Rosenberg was finally caught in 1984, she and an accomplice were found with explosives and guns. Convicted of federal weapons charges, she was sentenced to 58 years - the longest sentence in U.S. history for that crime. But Rosenberg said she never committed an act of violence. "I supported the right of oppressed people to armed struggle," she said. "That didn't mean I did it."
The indictment alleging she was a conspirator in the Brinks murders was dropped when prosecutors learned of the unrelated 58-year sentence for weapons. But Rosenberg contends the Brinks case was a weak one. "When they could really just have taken me to trial, they opted not to," she said. "They opted not to because they had a bad case."
Bad case or not, the crime has followed Rosenberg for the length of her incarceration and influenced her treatment, she said. "When you are defined as a cop killr...if it's in your label, what's called your prison jacket," she said, "that's going to be how you're treated. I spent 11 years in isolation units, solitary confinement...in the hardest places for women."
"It was kind of expected," she says. "When I didn't get parole, I was very upset but I wasn't shocked."
The federal government refused to answer 60 Minutes questions about the Rosenberg case.
Rosenberg remains resolute. "I've done everything I know in my heart on every level to take responsibility for what I think I have to," she said. "I'm not going to take responsibility for something the government thinks that I should because they think I should."