Longest-serving Manhattan DA dies at 99

Robert Morgenthau (pictured) was the inspiration for a top prosecutor in the TV series Law & Order.
Robert Morgenthau (pictured) was the inspiration for a top prosecutor in the TV series Law & Order.

Former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who spent more than three decades jailing criminals from Mafia kingpins and drug-dealing killers to corporate executives, has died just 10 days short of his 100th birthday.

He died on Sunday at Manhattan's Lenox Hill Hospital after a short illness, his wife Lucinda Franks told The New York Times.

Morgenthau, who served as US Attorney for New York's southern district during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, returned to law enforcement as Manhattan's top state prosecutor in 1974 and did not leave for 35 years, with his office handling around 100,000 criminal cases annually.

In 2005, at age 86, Morgenthau was elected for the eighth and last time and left office in 2009, with the longest-serving DA throwing his support to his eventual successor, Cy Vance.

In his position at the forefront of Manhattan's legal and political scene, Morgenthau cultivated a dignified, above-the-fray presence.

He was the model for the avuncular character of prosecutor Adam Schiff, played by actor Steven Hill in the long-running television series Law & Order.

Under Morgenthau's watch, Manhattan prosecutors took on many high-profile cases: political payoffs by mob boss Anthony "Tony Ducks" Corallo, the shooting of four black youths by white subway gunman Bernhard Goetz, the weapons-possession arrest of hip-hop mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs.

Morgenthau's office also prosecuted mob boss John Gotti, former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski, who was convicted of fraud and larceny in a case seen as an emblem of corporate excess, and produced guilty pleas from "Preppie Killer" Robert Chambers Jr and John Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman.

Australian Associated Press