LA Times
Starting Over: Goldstein Tastes Freedom

Wrongly Imprisoned for 24 Years, Goldstein Freed

By Henry Weinstein and Christiana Sciaudone
Times Staff Writers
April 2, 2004

After being wrongfully imprisoned for murder for 24 years, Thomas Lee Goldstein, a 55-year-old former Marine, was freed by a Long Beach Superior Court judge today and took the first steps toward trying to create a new life.

"I'm nervous and anxious and uncertain about the future, but I am glad to be out," Goldstein said outside the Long Beach courthouse just moments after he was released.

Goldstein said he was bitter about how he had been treated. He has always maintained his innocence and had been convicted on the basis of testimony from an unreliable jailhouse informant and an eyewitness who later recanted. In recent years, five federal judges all agreed that Goldstein's constitutional rights had been violated by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

Three hours before Goldstein walked out of jail, Judge James B. Pierce ordered Goldstein released after a prosecutor told the judge district attorney's office was unable to retry Goldstein.

Photos
Thomas Goldstein Now
Thomas Goldstein
February, 2003

Thomas Goldstein Then
Thomas Goldstein as a young Marine
Earlier this week, Pierce dealt a critical blow to the prosecution's case when he ruled that they could not present testimony from Loran Campbell, a key witness against Goldstein at his 1980 trial. Campbell had recanted his testimony in 2002 and died months later.

"In light of the court's previous ruling on the trial testimony of Loran Campbell, the people are unable to proceed," Deputy Dist. Atty. Patrick Connolly said.

Goldstein, who has always maintained his innocence — and reiterated it today — looked numb as his 24 years in custody came to an end after a two-minute hearing. His defense lawyers, Dale Rubin and Charles Lindner, briefly embraced him as Goldstein, dressed in an orange jail jump suit, left the courtroom.

After Goldstein was released, one of his attorneys drove him to a downtown Veterans Administration center to help facilitate his reentry into society, a move arranged by Father Gregory Boyle, an East Los Angeles priest who has been an activist on criminal justice issues.

The district attorney's office grudgingly gave up the case four months after a federal appeals court ruled that Goldstein had been wrongfully convicted of shotgunning John McGinest to death in Long Beach on Nov. 3, 1979.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled that Goldstein should be immediately released. State and local officials, however, did not comply with the order, leading to a criminal investigation that is now pending in Los Angeles federal court.

Goldstein's attorneys said they were pleased at the outcome but both expressed disgust that Goldstein had been imprisoned for so long on such thin evidence, even after the five federal judges had ruled that his constitutional rights had been seriously violated.

Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley's office re-charged Goldstein, contending that they had a strong case that never materialized.

"They had nothing. No fingerprints. No forensic evidence. No gun," said Rubin.

"This was nothing but pure, outrageous false imprisonment," Linder said.

In continuing to push the case the past four months, the district attorney's office engaged in "display of prosecutorial chutzpah nearly equal to the mendacity it employed to secure the defendant's original conviction," Lindner said outside the courtroom.

Sandi Gibbons, the public information officer for the district attorney's office, gave reporters a formal three-paragraph statement that said Goldstein was convicted by a jury and that the verdict had been upheld by state appellate courts.

The statement said the conviction only had been overturned on "the basis of an eyewitness [Campbell] who, after two decades, recanted his identification of the defendant."

In fact, that was not the only basis of the actions by the federal judges. They also emphasized the prosecution's use of Edward F. Fink, an unreliable jailhouse informant, who testified that Goldstein had confessed to the murder when the two were briefly incarcerated together in the Long Beach city jail.

Fink testified falsely that he had received nothing in return for his testimony. In reality, prosecutors had agreed to drop one case against him and reduce the charges on another case.

The district attorney's failure to tell the defense denied Goldstein a fair trial, Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert N. Block said in November, 2002. The ruling was upheld by a federal judge in Los Angeles and three 9th Circuit judges.

Reached by phone in Kansas, Goldstein's 78-year-old mother Geri was jubilant.

"You can't imagine how I'm feeling," she said. "Finally, finally, finally, this has happened. What a wonderful gift for Passover. Freedom at last."

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