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Paulene Goldenstein

Other Minnesota Exonerations
In April and May 1987, Ronald and Paulene Goldenstein became foster parents to three siblings—four-year-old D.P., her brother, three-year-old W.P. and their sister, 22-month-old C.R. in Hennepin County, Minnesota.

The children were neglected and possibly abused by their biological mother, who had a severe alcohol problem. The year before, their mother had left them home alone and police found two of the children on the roof and the third naked in an alley. In March 1987 the child were found alone, outside of their home, which had no heat or electricity.

On May 7, 1990, the older girl, who was then 7, reported to her day care provider that Ronald Goldenstein had hit her. Goldenstein told authorities that the girl was acting up inside a store, so she was sent to sit alone in the family truck while they finished shopping. When the family came out of the store, they discovered the girl had started a fire in the truck.

Three days later, child services removed the children from the Goldenstein’s home and began an investigation. The children were placed in the foster care of Sybil Gund on September 17, 1990. Two weeks later, the children began acting out sexually. Gund saw the boy, who was then six, attempt to kiss another boy on the mouth and she found the younger girl, who was four, and the boy in a room with their underwear pulled down. Gund said all three told her that Ronald and Paulene had sexually abused them.

The younger girl said she slept with the couple and that Ronald Goldstein played with her “privates.” The boy told her that Paulene Goldenstein gave him baths and performed oral sex on him. The boy said that the older girl performed oral sex on Ronald Goldenstein and that the couple had sex with the older girl in the basement of the home.

Gund notified Ronald Spolar who had been the children’s social services case worker since 1989 and ultimately all three children were interviewed separately. The younger two described a broad array of sexual assaults committed by the Goldenstein’s on them. The older girl denied that anyone had touched her sexually or hurt her and she also denied that anyone hurt her siblings. She only said that Ronald Goldenstein was “naughty,” but would not say why.

In December 1990, the three children were interviewed individually at CornerHouse by Judy Weigman, an interviewing specialist. CornerHouse is a private independent agency that videotapes interviews of alleged victims of child abuse who are referred by child protection and law enforcement agencies. All three children said that the Goldensteins had sexually assaulted them and committed various forms of sexual abuse, some of which were photographed.

After the interviews, Dr. Marjorie Hogan, examined all three children. Her examination of the boy found no physical evidence of sexual abuse, although during the exam, the boy said, “Someone hurt my privates.” The examination of the older girl revealed some abnormalities of the vaginal area, but these were only consistent with, not evidence of, sexual abuse. The younger girl had some evidence of “damage or trauma” to her hymen that was “consistent with sexual abuse.”

The children then began receiving therapy for sexually acting out, impulse control, boundaries, developmental delays and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. During one session, with his therapist, Dr. Eugene Urbain, the boy said that Ronald Spolar, the caseworker, and Paulene Goldenstein were present when Ronald Goldenstein was having sex with the older girl and that Spolar was kissing and having sex with the girl as well. Urbain wrote in his notes that this could “be a bombshell.”

All three children were then re-interviewed by child welfare workers who said the results indicated Spolar was not involved in any sexual activity with the children.

In June 1991, Paulene and Ronald were arrested and charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct during the three years (no specific dates were alleged) that the children lived in the Goldenstein home.

The couple went to trial in Hennepin County Circuit in March 1992. By that time, the state had revoked the couple’s foster care license. The judge, after questioning the children individually, declared them incompetent to testify and admitted their out-of-court statements to the child services workers and their therapists.

The judge refused to allow the defense, however, to present the evidence that the children had falsely accused Spolar of engaging in sex with the older girl at the Goldenstein home.

Ronald and Paulene both testified and denied any sexual activity with the children. Paulene Goldenstein told the jury that the children began exhibiting overt sexual activity immediately after they were placed in the Goldenstein home.

The older girl masturbated the first night in the home and the boy touched Paulene’s breasts. She said the children were very hyperactive and constantly hit and kicked each other.

The defense called several social workers, a day care worker and other family members who testified that the children presented multiple challenges. The boy was constantly trying to grab women’s breasts; the older girl was frequently in the bathroom masturbating and the younger girl played sexually. A co-worker of Paulene’s testified that she and her son visited the Goldenstein home and that during the visit, she discovered the older girl on a bed “humping” the co-worker’s son.

The children were in therapy while they lived with the Goldensteins. The therapists testified that during the three years, none of the children ever mentioned being sexually abused by the Goldensteins.

In March 1992, the jury convicted Ronald and Paulene of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. They were each sentenced to 10 years in prison.

In August 1993, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the convictions and ordered a new trial. The court ruled that the defense should have been entitled to present the children’s statements that caseworker Ronald Spolar had engaged in sex with the older girl.

“With no physical evidence except medical evidence ‘consistent with’ sexual abuse, the state’s case rested nearly exclusively on the children’s out-of-court statements,” the appeals court said. “Consequently, the veracity of the children when making those statements was critical to (the) defense. We agree with (the defendants) that the trial court’s exclusion of evidence of the prior false allegations violated their constitutional right to present a defense.”

In August 1993, Paulene and Ronald were released on bond pending a retrial. In September 1994, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/9/2016
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1990
Sentence:10 years
Age at the date of reported crime:42
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No