- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 15, 2008


The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to decide whether a man who served 24 years in prison before his murder conviction was overturned can sue a former Los Angeles County district attorney and a top deputy prosecutor for violating his civil rights.

Thomas Goldstein was convicted of a 1979 murder on the strength of a jailhouse informant’s testimony that Mr. Goldstein confessed to the crime. The informant testified that he received no benefit in return, but evidence came to light later suggesting he had struck a deal to get a lighter sentence.

Individual prosecutors typically may not be sued for their decisions, but Mr. Goldstein sued former District Attorney John K. Van de Kamp, who later became California attorney general, and his former chief deputy, Curt Livesay, claiming that as supervisors they had a policy of relying on jailhouse informants even though it sometimes led to false evidence.

A trial judge and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the lawsuit could proceed, but Mr. Van de Kamp and Mr. Livesay asked the Supreme Court to reverse that ruling.

The case will be argued in the fall.

Mr. Goldstein was a college student when arrested for the Nov. 3, 1979, shotgun killing of John McGinest in Long Beach. Mr. Goldstein lived nearby in a rented garage but there was no physical evidence to link him to the killing. The weapon was never found.

Jailhouse informant Edward Floyd Fink, a heroin user with a criminal record, testified that Mr. Goldstein told him in a jail-cell confession that he shot Mr. McGinest because he owed Mr. Goldstein money. Fink testified during the preliminary hearing that he had not received any benefit in return for his testimony.

Fink, however, had testified in more than 10 cases that people confessed crimes to him while sharing a jail cell and evidence suggested he struck a deal in the Goldstein case to get a lighter sentence.

Another eyewitness in the case later recanted testimony identifying Mr. Goldstein as the gunman.

Two federal judges and a federal appeals panel eventually ruled that Mr. Goldstein was wrongly convicted and he was freed in April 2004.

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