February 3, 2004
Murder Charge Re-filed After Conviction Overturned
by Tim Molloy
LOS ANGELES (Feb. 3) - Hours after a judge dismissed Thomas Lee Goldstein's 24-year-old murder conviction, Goldstein was right back where he started his long legal struggle: standing in a courtroom, entering a plea of innocent.
The 55-year-old remained in custody Monday even though two federal judges and a federal appeals panel ruled he was wrongly convicted based on the testimony of a jailhouse informant. Last week, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals demanded Goldstein's immediate release.
Superior Court Judge Arthur Jean granted a defense motion Monday to dismiss the conviction, but prosecutors' refiled the case almost immediately. Bail was set at $1 million.
"If the 9th Circuit is correct and this is an innocent man, they're certainly adding to the nightmare that he's gone through for the past 24 years," said Goldstein's attorney, Dale M. Rubin, said. "You're telling me there's nothing better they can do with their time? I haven't seen any evidence that establishes his guilt."
Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, said prosecutors were confident they could again win a conviction."We feel that the evidence in this case is strong," she said.Monday's legal drama was only the latest reversal of fortune for Goldstein.
A three-judge appeals court panel ordered in December that he be released without bail, but state prison officials instead turned him over to Los Angeles County jailers, citing orders from the district attorney.
The 9th Circuit said Friday it found serious problems with his original trial, especially the use of informant Edward F. Fink.
Fink, a heroin user with a lengthy criminal record, had testified in more than 10 cases that people had confessed crimes to him while they shared his jail cell.
Evidence suggests Fink struck a deal with prosecutors to get a lighter sentence in exchange for his testimony. Prosecutors' failure to tell defense lawyers about the deal violated Goldstein's constitutional rights, the judges said.
The appeals court also told District Judge Dickran M. Tevrizian to determine whether law-enforcement officials should be held in contempt for refusing to release Goldstein. No hearing on that issue has yet been set.
Goldstein was a college student when John McGinest was killed by shotgun fire on a Long Beach street on Nov. 3, 1979. Goldstein, who lived in a rented garage near the murder scene, was arrested two weeks later.
No physical evidence linked him to the killing, and the murder weapon was never found. Prosecutors relied on the statements of Fink and another witness, Loran B. Campbell, both of whom are now dead.
Two decades after Goldstein's conviction, Campbell said he had "put his doubts aside" about whether the gunman he saw was Goldstein because "police had convinced me they had arrested the right person."