Goldstein said his
|LONG BEACH - An ex-Marine who spent nearly
25 years behind bars for a 1979 shotgun murder in Long Beach was freed
Friday, after prosecutors considering a retrial were stymied by a now dead
witness's recanted testimony.
"I'm nervous and anxious and uncertain about the future, but I'm glad to be out," a gray-haired, bespectacled Thomas Lee Goldstein told reporters moments after his release from a courthouse lockup in Long Beach.
Before being whisked away by his attorneys, Goldstein, 55, said his immediate plans were to "have a nice meal."
His freedom came a few hours after prosecutors announced in court that they would be unable to retry Goldstein for the Nov. 3, 1979, shotgun slaying of John McGinest, who was 25.
Superior Court Judge James B. Pierce had ruled Tuesday that key witness Loran Campbell's trial testimony, which he recanted in 2002 before dying, could not be introduced by the prosecution at a Goldstein retrial.
"In light of the court's previous ruling on the trial testimony of Loran Campbell, the people are unable to proceed," Deputy District Attorney Patrick Connolly told the judge this morning.
After the prosecutor made his announcement, the judge dismissed the case and ordered Goldstein released.
Defense attorney Charles Lindner said the case "was never there."
"They should have never reprosecuted," Lindner told reporters after the hearing. "They stole another four months of this man's life without merit, utterly without merit."
A federal judge, a federal magistrate and a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had all ruled that Goldstein was denied a fair trial.
But the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office refiled the case Feb. 2, after Long Beach Superior Court Judge Arthur Jean threw out the conviction.
McGinest, a month away from his 26th birthday, was killed near Pine Avenue and 12th Street when hit by four shotgun blasts. Goldstein, who lived in a nearby garage, was arrested about two weeks later.
Goldstein maintained his innocence throughout the years at three parole hearings, though it probably would have gotten him out of prison, Lindner said.
"Now what we had and what the district attorney wanted to do was recycle all of the constitutional violations from 25 years ago, and use them now to get a retrial against Mr. Goldstein, which does seem outrageous," said defense attorney Dale Rubin, who along with Lindner represented Goldstein.
"The reason the case is not being retried is because they have absolutely no evidence, and that's the state of the case 25 years ago without the police misconduct and the district attorney misconduct," Rubin said. "So there was nothing that they could do except try to use what they had done 25 years ago, and it just didn't work."
Outside court, Lindner said the defense reviewed the evidence from the first trial more than two decades ago and determined he was innocent.
"I'm amazed that he isn't angrier, candidly," Lindner said.
As for Goldstein, "He's in very good spirits, naturally," Rubin said before his client, wearing white and yellow jail clothes, was released about 1 p.m.
The attorney said arrangements had been made to take Goldstein to a halfway house run by the Veterans Administration, which will assist him in trying to ease back into society.
"It's been 25 years since he was on the streets, literally," Rubin said. "This will help instead of just dumping him off on the sidewalk."
He said his client got a $200 check from the California Department of Corrections in December, when he initially was ordered released, but has been unable to cash it because he has no identification.
When asked how he felt about hearing the decision to release him, Goldstein said, "Well, you know, I've heard that so many times and not been released. You know, I was skeptical. But I'm glad to be out."
"I feel right," he said of his decision to maintain his innocence for nearly a quarter-century, noting that he has attorneys who "are going to address that."
As for being released from jail, Goldstein said, "It is kind of scary, a lot of random movement."
Rubin said his client has a lot of catching up to do. He said that during one hearing, Goldstein saw Lindner open his laptop computer and connect to the Internet to do legal research.
"His face lit up. He'd never seen that before," Rubin said. "You have to remember there were no CDs when he went into custody, no laptops. He's really missed a lot as to where society is today."
Rubin said he believes his client's reintegration into society "is going to be very difficult." He said he wants to make sure it happens as easily as possible so his client doesn't end up back in prison.
Rubin said he spoke to Goldstein's mother, who apparently lives in Topeka, Kan., where her son eventually plans to go, and she was thrilled with the outcome of today's court hearing.
In a written statement, Sandi Gibbons of the District Attorney's Office said:
"A jury convicted Thomas Lee Goldstein of murder nearly 24 years ago. After state appellate courts upheld the conviction, Goldstein turned to the federal courts.
"A U.S. District Court judge in Los Angeles overturned the conviction on the basis of an eyewitness who, after two decades, recanted his identification of the defendant. The witness died prior to the time the case was returned to state court.
"When jury verdicts are overturned, it is incumbent upon a public prosecutor to make sure the evidence is reinvestigated, witnesses are reinterviewed and all legal and investigative avenues are explored as a decision is made on a retrial.
"In the vast majority of these cases, the defendants are retried, convicted and returned to state prison.
"In the Goldstein case, the available evidence was tested in court at this week's hearing. Because of the trial court's ruling, we are unable to proceed with this case and asked the court to dismiss the murder charge against the defendant.
"In making this decision, we pursued all legal avenues and considered the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Crawford case regarding whether testimony from unavailable and deceased witnesses can be used at trial."