LONG BEACH - The city of Long Beach has reached a $7.95 million settlement with a man whose 1980 murder conviction was overturned after he had served 24 years in prison.
Thomas Lee Goldstein, now 61, was convicted in the Nov. 3, 1979, shotgun murder of John McGinest on Pine Avenue near 12th Street, not far from Goldstein's rented home at the time. A former Marine, Goldstein was a psychology major who was attending Long Beach City College on the G.I. Bill.
Goldstein was freed in 2004 after the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out his conviction. There had been no physical evidence that he committed the crime, and the court determined that testimony from two witnesses - one an eyewitness who later recanted his story and the other a jailhouse informant - had been unreliable.
He filed his lawsuit in 2004 shortly after he was released from prison. The lawsuit claimed that Long Beach police detectives' misconduct, which included alleged attempts to sway an eyewitness to testify against Goldstein and using the testimony of the jailhouse informant, led to his wrongful conviction.
The Long Beach City Council approved the settlement June 1 in closed session, according to Monte Machit, a principal deputy city attorney for the city, but attorneys didn't finalize the deal until Wednesday.
Goldstein, who reportedly lives in Los Angeles, couldn't be reached for comment late Wednesday. His mother, Geri Goldstein, of Topeka, Kansas, said the news was a relief. "I am very happy for him," she said. "He certainly deserves it. My god, after 25 years, practically half of his life has been taken away from him."
Goldstein also sued the prosecutor who helped convict him, but that case was appealed in 2008 to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that prosecutors have immunity.
Cities don't have such immunity.
Machit said that the settlement was the best outcome that could have been reached and that Long Beach still stands behind the police detectives' actions 30 years ago. "It is our position that the police had done nothing wrong, that the police did not improperly interview any witness or investigate the case (improperly),"
However, if the case had gone to trial, it could have been much more costly, he said.
"If the jury found that Goldstein was entitled to compensation, the amount of compensation would be tremendous," Machit said.
He estimated that a ruling against the city could have cost Long Beach between $24 million and $30 million for Goldstein's damages, plus $6 million to $10 million in attorneys fees.
One challenge in the lawsuit was that both of the witnesses whose testimony was in question had died, Machit said. He said that he believed the eyewitness who recanted his account of the murder years later did so because he had "dementia," but that couldn't be proven.
The $7.95 million settlement will be paid in three installments over three fiscal years, Machit said. The first payment will be made immediately, the second payment will be made in October when the city's new fiscal year begins, and the third payment will happen a year later.
The payments will be made out of the city's insurance fund, in which the city has been setting aside money in anticipation of a settlement, and won't affect the general fund, Machit said.