On June 17, 1996, Jerry Golding’s fiancée, Jeri Baker, called 911 from their home in Goochland County, Virginia, threatening suicide. Golding, 44, also spoke to the police emergency dispatcher and said that there were no weapons in the house with which Baker could harm herself or anyone else.
Corporal James Mann of the Goochland County Sheriff’s department was sent to the home and when he arrived, Golding told him that there were no weapons in the house. Golding had a prior felony conviction and was therefore prohibited from possessing firearms.
But after Baker ran upstairs and mentioned something about a gun, Golding told Mann that he remembered that Baker had brought a shotgun with her when she moved in with him.
Although Baker pulled the shotgun out from under a mattress, Mann was able to defuse the situation. He later left, leaving the shotgun. But a few hours later, Mann returned to the home with a search warrant. Inside the home, he recovered the shotgun as well as a box of .22 caliber ammunition and a small amount of marijuana.
Although Baker told Mann the shotgun was hers, Golding was indicted by a federal grand jury in July 1996 on charges of possession of a weapon by a felon and possession of ammunition by a felon.
Golding went on trial on January 9, 1998. Mann testified about recovering the shotgun and the ammunition. Golding denied the gun was his and said Baker had brought it when she moved in and that she kept it under the mattress on her side of the bed for protection. During closing arguments, the prosecutor repeatedly pointed out to the jury that Golding’s wife (Baker and Golding had married prior to trial) did not testify and implied that this was a sign of Golding’s guilt. The jury convicted Golding of illegal possession of a weapon and acquitted him of illegal possession of marijuana.
Prior to sentencing, Golding filed a motion for a new trial, accusing the prosecution of improperly threatening to prosecute Baker so that she would not testify on his behalf at the trial.
In a sworn affidavit, Baker said that about a week prior to the trial, the prosecutor threatened to indict her on a marijuana possession charge if she testified that the gun belonged to her, even though a state court charge of marijuana possession against her already had been dismissed.
The trial judge, instead of holding a hearing, asked the prosecution for an offer of proof of what had occurred. The prosecutor told the judge that the prosecutor had merely expressed surprise that Baker would expose herself to prosecution—not threatened to prosecute—upon learning of Baker’s intention to testify. As a result, the judge denied the defense motion and Golding was sentenced to 37 months in prison.
Golding appealed his conviction to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. During oral argument, the prosecution admitted that in fact the prosecutor had told Baker’s lawyer that Baker would be prosecuted if she testified.
In February 1999, the Appeals Court vacated Golding’s conviction, and ordered a new trial. “Contrary to the government’s proffer, this was not a gentle recognition of Mrs. Golding’s ‘potential exposure’ to criminal charges,” the court said. “The government did not stop with the threat. Instead, the prosecutrix further abused her power by using the very situation she had created against the defendant in closing argument.”
In April 1999, the prosecution dismissed the remaining charge against Golding and he was released from prison.
– Maurice Possley