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Thomas Lee Goldstein

Other Los Angeles Exonearions with Jailhouse Informants
At around 10:20 p.m. on November 3, 1979, 25-year-old John McGinest was shot and killed on the street in Long Beach, California.

Several eyewitnesses provided police with an initial description of the shooter as being a black or Hispanic man. Six eyewitnesses were shown a photo lineup, but none could identify the shooter.

However, after being shown the photo of 30-year-old Thomas Goldstein a second time, one witness – Loran Campbell – said it was possible Goldstein was the shooter. Based upon that less than positive identification, Long Beach police arrested Goldstein even though he was white.

Goldstein was an ex-Marine and a Vietnam veteran who lived near the murder scene in an $85-a-month garage apartment. He was an engineering student at Long Beach City College.

Goldstein was placed in a cell with Edward Fink, a jailhouse snitch who had been a police informant for 10 years and had previously benefited from telling police about “confessions” from his cellmates. The next day, Fink told police that Goldstein had confessed to him that he shot McGinest.

In 1980, Goldstein went to trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court. No physical or forensic evidence linked him to the crime. The murder weapon—a shotgun—was never recovered.

The prosecution’s case was based primarily on the testimony of Fink and Campbell. Fink told the jury that Goldstein admitted to the crime. He also falsely claimed that he received no benefits for his testimony, and had never received benefits for his cooperation with police. Loran Campbell identified Goldstein as the man he saw fleeing from the scene of the shooting.

The prosecution’s theory was that Goldstein killed McGinest because McGinest owed him money, but presented no evidence to support that theory. The jury convicted Goldstein of murder and he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

After the conviction, Goldstein filed numerous appeals on his own behalf, but was unsuccessful.

In 1990, a grand jury report revealed that Los Angeles County prosecutors had regularly presented false testimony by jailhouse informants between 1979 and 1990. Goldstein eventually tracked down a lawyer who had information showing that Fink had lied in a number of cases, and discovered that Fink had received benefits in exchange for his testimony.

After Goldstein filed a second federal habeas corpus petition in 1997, the federal public defender’s office was appointed to represent him. In 2000, an investigator tracked down Loran Campbell. Campbell recanted his testimony, saying that the police had coached him to identify Goldstein. In November 2002, a federal district court overturned Goldstein’s conviction, ruling that he had been deprived of a fair trial because the prosecution failed to reveal that Fink had received benefits in exchange for his testimony. The prosecution appealed.

In December 2003, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court’s decision, overturning Goldstein’s conviction and granting him a new trial. The court also ordered Goldstein’s immediate release, but prosecutors did not comply with the order.

In January 2004, Los Angeles Times reporter Henry Weinstein brought public attention to Goldstein’s case for the first time. “Over the past 14 months, five federal judges have ruled that Thomas Lee Goldstein, a 54-year-old former Marine imprisoned 24 years for murder was wrongly convicted largely on the word of an unreliable jailhouse informant,” Weinstein wrote. “Yet even after a Dec.4 ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that Goldstein should be released without bail, he remains in custody of Los Angeles County officials.

Weinstein revealed that instead of letting Goldstein go free, prosecutors “turned him over to county jailers, who technically are not covered by the court order.” Moreover, Weinstein reported, prosecutors said they intended to recharge Goldstein and bring him to trial again even though Campbell had since died and Fink had been exposed as a serial liar.

In April 2004, a judge ruled that the prosecution could not use Campbell’s 1980 trial testimony at a retrial. The prosecution dismissed the case and Goldstein was finally released.

Goldstein filed a civil suit against the city and county, the police department, the district attorney and the district attorney’s chief deputy. The district attorney and his deputy moved to have the case against them dismissed because they had prosecutorial immunity.

After a federal district court judge denied their motion, they appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court. In January 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that the district attorney and the deputy had absolute immunity from the claims brought against them.

In August 2010, Goldstein settled his lawsuit against the city of Long Beach for nearly $8 million.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
County:Los Angeles
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1979
Sentence:25 to Life
Age at the date of reported crime:30
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No