Veteran NY chief prosecutor Robert Morgenthau dies: report

Morgenthau was a New York fixture who has battled as district attorney against the Mafia, white collar Wall Street crimes, and run high-profile celebrity cases (AFP Photo/SPENCER PLATT)

New York (AFP) - Veteran New York chief prosecutor Robert Morgenthau, who oversaw crimefighting in the city for 35 years and inspired a television character, died on Sunday, according to local media.

Morgenthau was a New York fixture who battled as district attorney against the Mafia, white-collar Wall Street crimes, and ran high-profile celebrity cases including the prosecution of John Lennon's murderer.

His tenure also oversaw the notorious "Central Park Five" rape case involving the shocking and brutal 1989 assault of a young, white jogger in Central Park, which stoked racial tensions in the city.

He ordered the case reopened in 2002 and five black men, who were teenagers at the time of their conviction and had served years in jail, were all eventually exonerated by DNA evidence.

Politically savvy, but protective of his office's role, Morgenthau wielded an outsized influence and is credited with launching the career of US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a New Yorker appointed to the top court in 2009.

His long rule also inspired the character of the district attorney on the television series "Law and Order."

Born to a wealthy and well-connected family -- his father was treasury secretary for President Franklin D. Roosevelt -- Morgenthau served as a naval officer in World War II and unsuccessfully sought the New York governorship twice before his election as district attorney in 1975. He was re-elected eight times.

He died at a hospital in New York's Upper East Side after a short illness, his wife Lucinda Franks told the New York Times.