A Superior Court judge delayed until Monday a decision on whether to order the release from custody of Thomas Lee Goldstein, a man who five federal judges say was wrongfully convicted of murder 24 years ago.
Judge Arthur Jean said at a hearing Thursday that he would have to review legal briefs, transcripts and court decisions before deciding whether prosecutors had grounds to keep Goldstein, 54, in custody.
Sandi Gibbons, spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, said prosecutors were also reviewing the matter.
"It is an old case. The police are looking for witnesses. We are going back into the investigation," Gibbons said.
Goldstein's case has been heavily reviewed in the last 14 months. A federal magistrate judge, a federal district judge and a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals have all examined it and concluded that prosecutors denied Goldstein a fair trial when he was convicted in 1980.
In December, the 9th Circuit ordered Goldstein released from prison without bail, but state officials have kept him in custody.
The central issue in the case is the role of Edward Floyd Fink, a jailhouse informant, now dead. Fink testified that when he and Goldstein shared a jail cell overnight, Goldstein confessed to him that he had murdered John McGinest, who was shot Nov. 3, 1979, on a street in Long Beach.
Prosecutors struck a deal with Fink to drop a petty theft charge against him and give him a light sentence on a grand theft charge in return for testimony against Goldstein.
They then concealed that deal from the defense, violating Goldstein's constitutional rights, the federal judges have ruled.
His case is one of at least 10 -- including seven involving murder -- in which Fink, who was arrested at least 35 times between 1969 and 1994, testified that someone had confessed to him while sharing a cell.
Jean, like many other Superior Court judges in Los Angeles, was a deputy district attorney for many years before joining the bench. At one point, he prosecuted Fink.
Jean told lawyers that he had also shared an office with the prosecutor who handled the preliminary hearing in Goldstein's case.
In addition to citing Fink's role, the 9th Circuit judges said that Long Beach police officers violated Goldstein's rights when they improperly encouraged a second witness, Loran B. Campbell, to identify Goldstein as the murderer.
Goldstein has always maintained his innocence. Dale M. Rubin, the lawyer assigned to represent him, said one sign that Goldstein was not guilty was that he recently turned down an offer from the district attorney's office to plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter.
"If he did that, he could walk out of jail now," Rubin said.
Asked about the case, Deputy Dist. Atty. Patrick Connolly, who is handling it now, told a reporter at Thursday's hearing: "I have been ordered not to speak to you."