Fullerton College welcomed Thomas Goldstein as a guest speaker Monday for Jodi Balma and the Sociology department’s showcasing of the film The Exonerated. Goldstein spent 24 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit before finally being exonerated in 2004.
The film featured six individuals, each exonerated from the crimes for which they were incarcerated. Each person having spent anywhere between two and 22 years wrongly imprisoned, The Exonerated, directed by Bob Balaban, highlights the issues in our criminal justice system – how easily the guilty can run free and the innocent are forced to fit the frame of guilt.
Goldstein took the podium clearing his throat and blinking the redness out of his eyes following the 90-minute film, telling the audience he’d never seen that film before.
“I want to express what we all had in common, and that’s that the system in some way failed us,” Goldstein said, “the prosecution withheld evidence, police coerced the witness, forced a false confession, the defense attorneys didn’t do their jobs…and that’s why you have so many wrongful convictions.”
In 1979, Goldstein was arrested for a murder that happened in his Long Beach neighborhood. Two witnesses gave false testimony in his trial – one that Goldstein confessed to the murder and the other that saw him running from the crime scene. Despite inconsistencies in eyewitness descriptions of the suspect, Goldstein was found guilty and sentenced to 27 years to life.
It wasn’t until 1997, after years and years of failed appeal attempts, did Goldstein find evidence that not only was one witness coerced with false information into identifying him as a suspect, but also the other witness was handsomely compensated for his testimony.
This evidence granted Goldstein the appeal and set him free.
“I lost 24 years of my life in prison … I lost all these years, and they’re long, lonely, wasted years, and when I speak, when I work with death penalty focus and when I address the legislatures and the colleges, I get some meaning, some value out of those years,” Goldstein said.
In 2010, Goldstein filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County, the District Attorney, and Long Beach, and settled out of court with the county for $7.95 million in the summer of 2014.
After watching the film and listening to Goldstein’s testimony, several students were asking, “What can we do to change this?”
This then sparked a serious discussion about what role college students play as young voters, and to seriously consider where we as students stand and how we’ll vote on a proposition regarding the death penalty come the 2016 election.
For students who are looking to get involved more intimately than voting, a program called Another Chance, based out of Urban Ministries in Pomona, works to help men and women leaving prison get clothing, counseling, and job interviews.
A guest speaker Beverly Weatherhill, representing First Christian Church of Orange, said, “There are things that all of us are able to do [to help]. I write a letter to a prisoner…and I’m sure you’d be able to find someone who’s looking to have contact and make a difference for that person.”