Wednesday, December 1, 2004
Man Imprisoned for 24 Years Sues Long Beach, Prosecutors
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A man who spent 24 years in prison on a first degree murder conviction before a federal judge found that exculpatory evidence had been withheld from his attorneys has sued the City of Long Beach, four current or former police officers, Los Angeles County, and two prosecutors for violation of his civil rights.
Police used “false and fabricated evidence,” including a jailhouse informant’s made-up claim of a confession, to convict Thomas Goldstein of the 1979 shotgun murder of John McGinest, attorney Ronald Kaye said at a Pasadena news conference yesterday.
The deputy district attorneys named as defendants, Patrick Connolly and Ann Ingalls, are accused of having engaged in an extralegal plan to keep Goldstein incarcerated after a federal judge threw out his conviction and ordered his release.
Kaye and his partners, David McLane and Marilyn Bednarski, filed suit Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The case was assigned to District Judge A. Howard Matz.
Goldstein, a college student and former U.S. marine with a minor criminal record for drunkenness and disturbing the peace, was arrested two weeks after McGinest was shot dead on a Long Beach street. Police said an eyewitness, Loran Campbell—now deceased—had picked Goldstein out of a photo array.
Goldstein was convicted primarily on the testimony of Campbell and Edward Fink, who testified that he was in the same jail cell as Goldstein and that Goldstein confessed to killing McGinest in a fight over money.
Goldstein’s lawyers claim that Campbell—who testified for the prosecution at trial, identifying Goldstein as the shooter, but retracted that identification 20 years later—did not identify Goldstein’s photo until after detectives specifically picked out that photo and falsely told Campbell that Goldstein was “the suspect” in the case.
Goldstein was convicted and sentenced to 27 years to life in prison, and his appeal was unsuccessful. He filed a habeas corpus petition in 1998, and four years later, U.S. Magistrate Robert Block of the Central District of California concluded there was strong evidence that Fink had struck a deal with prosecutors, and that the prosecutors’ failure to tell the defense about it denied Goldstein a fair trial.
The magistrate cited a 1990 grand jury investigation that documented the widespread use of false testimony from jailhouse informants in Los Angeles County during the late 1970s and 1980s. That probe was spawned by the revelation by prolific informant Leslie Vernon White that he was able to obtain information about cases, arrange to be placed in the same cell as those defendants, and then produce fabricated tales about confessions that were sufficiently detailed to come across as genuine.
Fink, who was facing a prison term for grand theft before he “concocted” the confession story, received summary probation with a 58-day jail term, most of which he had already served, Kaye said yesterday.
U.S. District Judge Dickran Tevrizian adopted Block’s findings and ordered that Goldstein be released or retried. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed in December of last year, and further ordered “that Goldstein be released from incarceration in the interim.”
‘Order for Detainer’
According to Goldstein’s U.S. District Court complaint, Connolly and Ingalls violated the Ninth Circuit order by drafting and faxing a copy of an “Order for Detainer,” asking the Department of Corrections to keep Goldstein in custody. In doing so, the complaint alleges, the prosecutors “were acting outside the scope of their authority as district attorneys.”
The complaint further alleges that Connolly arranged to have Long Beach officers take custody of Goldstein from the state and deliver him to the county jail, whose officials were not parties to the habeas corpus proceeding and arguably beyond the scope of the federal court orders.
As a result, Goldstein remained in jail for an additional two months before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Arthur Jean ordered the case dismissed in furtherance of justice, saying the “cancerous nature” of the case required that Goldstein receive a new preliminary hearing if the case was to proceed.
Prosecutors then re-filed the charges, which were finally dismissed by Judge James Pierce after Connolly told the judge he could not proceed without the prior testimony of Campbell, which Pierce ruled inadmissible. Goldstein was released on April 2 of this year.
The complaint accuses the police of arresting Goldstein without probable cause, and with covering up the inadequacies of their evidence. It charges the city with a pattern and practice of civil rights violations, including “condoning and encouraging its officers in the belief that they can violate the rights of persons such as the Plaintiff in this action with impunity.”
Long Beach Principal Deputy City Attorney Belinda Mayes said she had anticipated that Goldstein would sue the city, but had not seen the complaint and could not comment.
With respect to Connolly and Ingalls, Kaye said yesterday that he does not believe prosecutorial immunity applies because they “were acting as jailers” rather than prosecutors. He said he will argue that immunity is appropriate when prosecutors are performing their assigned roles under judicial supervision, not when they are trying to circumvent judicial authority.
District attorney spokesperson Sandi Gibbons responded in a one-sentence prepared statement:
“[Connolly and Ingalls’] actions were fully supported by the law and were properly undertaken when reviewing whether or not to proceed with retrial of a murder case.”
Goldstein spoke at the press conference, saying he has had a difficult re-adjustment to civilian life. His prison years were difficult, as the years passed without the vindication he expected, and he drew abuse from both corrections officers and fellow inmates because of his Jewish ethnicity, he said.
He said he has been working for various lawyers as a paralegal, and that one of the matters he worked on was a conditions-of-incarceration case that required him to visit the Orange County Jail to interview inmates.
“I kind of liked the idea of being allowed to walk out,” he quipped.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company