Murray R. Gold Trials: 1976-92

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Murray R. Gold Trials: 1976-92

Defendant: Murray R. Gold
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: First and second trials: Victor Ferrante, William Kuntsler, Timothy Moynahan; Third trial: John Williams; Fourth trial: William Collins, Nicholas Serignese
Chief Prosecutors: John A. Connelly, Francis McDonald, Walter Scanlon, Marcia Smith
Judges: First trial: Robert A. Wall; Second trial: George A. Saden; Third trial: Charles D. Gill; Fourth trial: William Lavery
Place: Waterbury, Connecticut
Dates of Trials: First trial: February 17-March 31, 1976; Second trial: October 12-November 18, 1976; Third trial: January 8-March 5, 1985; Fourth trial: June 24-July 24, 1986
Verdicts: First trial: Mistrial (hung jury); Second trial: Guilty of first-degree murder; Third trial: Mistrial; Fourth trial: Guilty
Sentences: Second trial: 25 years imprisonment; Fourth trial: Two concurrent terms of 25 years to life

SIGNIFICANCE: The long trip of Murray Gold for well over a decade through the criminal courts shows what can happen when a mentally ill defendant fights the system. The facts of the case, many of them disputed by either the defendant or the prosecution, leave the observer to wonder whether Gold was indeed wrongfully accused and convicted.

Shortly after 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 26, 1974, Waterbury, Connecticut, police were called to the Fern Street home of 71-year-old attorney Irving Pasternak. They found Pasternak and his wife, Rhoda, deadIrving stabbed 35 times, Rhoda 25 times. They found a bloodstained knife and bloody footprints bearing the trademark "Cat's Paw."

In the street, two women reported being nearly knocked down by a man "running like the devil and his long hair waving in the wind."

A Former Son-in-Law

Investigators suspected stockbroker Murray Gold, who lived in New York City and had been divorced 10 years earlier from the Pasternaks' daughter Barbara. Police found fresh cuts on two fingers of Gold's left hand. He said they occurred while scraping carrots. And Gold insisted he had spent the evening of the murders with his parents, who said he had been under psychiatric treatment and was paranoid. He was indicted for first-degree murder.

Following the trial's opening on February 17, 1976, prosecutor Francis McDonald called 41 witnesses. They presented circumstantial evidence: All Gold's shoes had Cat's Paw heels, he had had shock treatments in psychiatric hospitals seven months before the murders, his New York-licensed car had been seen parked early in the morning in the Pasternaks' neighborhood three days before the murders, and pieces of plastic found at the crime scene appeared to match a button-fastening kit in Gold's apartment.

Defense attorney William Kuntsler quickly proved the car had been seen three weeks (not three days) before the stabbings, while Murray was visiting his ex-wife's sister, Myrna, in hope of a reconciliation with Barbara. An expert defense witness testified that he could not make a positive identification or match of the plastic pieces.

A Dead Culprit?

Kuntsler introduced the name Bruce Sanford, a dedicated Satanist whom Waterbury police and area psychiatric hospitals had long known for his penchant for violent crime. He had committed suicide in December 1974. Earlier that year, in a custody dispute with his ex-wife, Glorianna, over their five children, Sanford had become convinced that attorney Pasternak was advising her, and on the night of the murders Glorianna had infuriated him by ordering him out of her house. Kuntsler lined up a witness who could testify that Sanford threatened to "get Pasternak."

The prosecution objected. Testimony about a dead man would be hearsay. Judge Robert Wall overruled the objections, and a doctor testified that Sanford suffered from "a maladaptation taking the form of frequent acts of hostility." Another witness testified that Sanford said he was sorry he had to kill Mrs. Pasternak.

After deliberating for five days, the jury stood deadlocked. Judge Wall declared a mistrial.

Second Trial

At Trial II, beginning October 12, 1976, 55 prosecution witnesses testified to the circumstantial evidence. On cross-examination, an FBI expert on footprints admitted that the bloody heel print "was not made by any" of Gold's shoes. The defense then proved that in 1974 Cat's Paw had distributed 10,000 pairs of heels in Waterbury.

While prosecution and defense counsels were the same in Trial II as in Trial I, the judge was not. Unlike Judge Wall, Judge George Saden refused to admit testimony about Sanford's confession. The jury found Gold guilty of both murders in the first degree. He was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment.

Gold's parents hired attorney Louis Nizer to handle an appeal. Before Connecticut's Supreme Court, he argued that the judge should have let the jury hear the hearsay evidence of Sanford's confession. The law, he asserted, permitted a hearsay confession because the confessor could not be expected to make an untrue statement that might subject him to punishment for a crime.

The five-judge Supreme Court ordered a new trial.

Waving in the Wind"

Prosecutor McDonald had Sanford's body exhumed, to see if Xrays showed Moreton's syndrome, a condition that would have made him walk with toes pointed outwardto be compared with crime-scene bloody footprints. The opened casket revealed Sanford's once-bald head covered by a woman's longhaired brown wig.

Testimony in Trial I had described Sanford wearing such a wig. The witnesses who had encountered the man running on Fern Street had described "his long hair waving in the wind."

On October 20, 1980, the Supreme Court of the United States, refusing to hear the case, upheld the Connecticut Supreme Court's decision. Prosecutor McDonald offered a "settlement" to Gold: He would be freed on the basis of time served and no third trial would be held if he would accept psychiatric treatment for one year, stay out of Connecticut, and plead guilty to a lesser charge.

Gold refused. He fired Nizer and hired Yale Law School professor John Williams. With Trial III underway, Williams cross-examined the witness who had seen Gold's car in the Pasternaks' neighborhood. He deftly destroyed her recollections of the man she had seen in the car. But Gold startled judge and jury by announcing, "I'll have to get myself another attorney."

Given several days to interview lawyers, Gold forced delays of the trial and demanded that some jurors be dismissed. Prosecutor Walter Scanlon moved for a hearing on Gold's competency to advise an attorney. On court orders, psychiatrist James Merikangas, M.D., examined Gold, finding him convinced "that there was a conspiracy against him and that his attorney was part of the conspiracy Mr. Gold suffers from paranoia which renders him presently incompetent to stand trial."

The doctor added that if Gold were treated in a mental institution for 18 months he would probably gain competency. More court-appointed psychiatrists agreed on Gold's incompetency. The judge declared a mistrial.

Found Competent

Following administration of the drug Navane, Gold was found competent by June 1986. Trial IV saw the prosecution witnesses again describe the crime scene, including 47 fingerprints. None, cross-examination revealed, were Gold's.

New defense lawyer William Collins called on Glorianna Sanford. Despite her testimony that her ex-husband had asked her on the morning after the murders to drive him to Florida, she seemed defiantly determined to clear him of suspicion of murder. As a defense witness, observers noted, she was an asset to the prosecution.

An emergency-room doctor testified on treating Sanford on the night of the murders for a self-inflicted superficial wound to the neck. Sanford's shirt, pants, and shoes, he testified, showed an "amount of blood excessive for the wound."

Long-time Sanford friend Patricia Morrison testified that he threatened to "get" Pasternak, and that he phoned her on the night of the murders to ask her to help him leave the state, saying he was covered with blood and had done something he could never get out of.

The jury deliberated for three days before finding Gold guilty of both murders in the first degree. He was sentenced to concurrent terms of no less than 25 years nor more than life. Imprisoned, he refused to appeal.

Habeas Corpus

Gold's attorneys petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus to reverse the verdict. Early in 1991, Superior Court Judge Howard Scheinblum heard psychiatrist Dr. Walter A. Borden, who had reviewed trial transcripts and interviewed Gold, conclude that "he is incompetent to stand trial [and] to take care of his person."

The defense tried to call Judge Lavery, who had presided over the fourth trial, to testify on his observations of Gold's demeanor during that trial, but Judge Scheinblum refused to put Lavery on the stand. Two medical experts testifying for the prosecution, however, admitted that three psychiatric reports had found Gold incompetent to stand the trial that brought his conviction.

On March 11, Judge Scheinblum ruled that Gold had not been legally competent during the fourth trial and "had not been afforded effective assistance of counsel" because the defense had "failed to take sufficient care to monitor and evaluate the petitioner's mental health during the course of the trial." The judge granted the writ of habeas corpus and a new trial.

The state appealed. On January 15, 1992, before the five-judge Supreme Court of Connecticut, Assistant State's Attorney James A. Killen argued that Judge Scheinblum had abused his discretion in refusing to allow the trial judge to testify in the habeas proceeding.

On June 9, 1992, the judges agreed, four to one, to reverse Judge Scheinblum's decision, remanding the Gold case for a new habeas corpus hearing. Three years later, on May 16, 1995, Waterbury Superior Court Judge Samuel J. Sferrazza, citing Gold's persistent refusal to appear in hearings and noting that the defense had not been presented in a diligent manner, dismissed Gold's petition for habeas corpus. Gold remained incarcerated.

Bernard Ryan, Jr.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Nizer, Louis. Catspaw: The Famed Trial Attorney's Heroic Defense of a Man Unjustly Accused. New York: Fine, 1992.

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Murray R. Gold Trials: 1976-92

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