A decades-old murder case involving the son of a local rabbi is again garnering attention as a new book examines the discrepancies of Charles “Zeke” Goldblum’s life sentence for a crime that many say he did not commit.
“Willful Blindness,” which was published last November and is available at amazon.com and other online retailers, is edited by former Post-Gazette writer David Bear and primarily authored by James Ramsey, a former narcotics detective turned private investigator who has spent the last 10 years researching Goldblum’s case.
Since the incarceration of Goldblum in 1977, several high-profile figures have come out in support of his release, most notably the prosecuting attorney that tried the case, Peter Dixon, and retired U.S. District Judge Donald Ziegler, who presided over the trial. Dixon and Ziegler, as well as renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, have all submitted letters or affidavits at various clemency and commutation proceedings throughout the last three decades, claiming that the evidence and extenuating circumstances require that Goldblum be released.
Still, after 40 years, Goldblum, the son of the late Rabbi Moshe Goldblum who served for 24 years as the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Shalom, remains behind bars, currently confined at the State Correctional Institution Mahanoy in Schuylkill County.
He is 67 years old, walks with a cane and has other health issues.
On February 10, 1976, Goldblum, a 26-year-old law school graduate working with Ernst and Young, was arrested for his purported involvement with a murder. The previous evening, the victim, George Wilhelm, had been stabbed and thrown off the rooftop of the Smithfield/Liberty parking garage downtown. Rather than falling to the street, Wilhelm landed on the roof of the pedestrian bridge one floor below, and, though mortally wounded, he survived long enough to tell a policeman the name of his assailant: Clarence Miller.
That statement is known in the law as a “dying declaration.” It is typically given significant evidentiary weight, as it is presumed that a person on his deathbed will tell the truth.
Nonetheless, Wilhelm’s dying declaration was not enough to raise a reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury, and in 1977, Goldblum was convicted of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, plus 15 to 30 years.
Bear, a longtime Squirrel Hill resident, began researching the case about two years ago.
“When I got involved, I was amazed not only at what was discovered, but the whole process the state uses to deal with life sentences,” Bear said, noting how rare it is in the state for a lifer to get his sentence commuted. The attitude of state officials, he continued, is that “life means life.”
“There have been a number of actions brought by the family and others to overturn the wrongful conviction,” he said, but only one of those applications — the one filed in 1998 — received a public hearing. In addition to letters of support from Ziegler and Dixon, the medical examiner on the case, Joshua Perper also said “that Zeke didn’t do it and that he shouldn’t be in prison,” according to Bear.
The matter of Goldblum’s continued incarceration goes beyond his particular case, according to Bear, and to the broader issue of “geriatric lifers” in Pennsylvania who are routinely denied clemency.
“I hope this logjam will break,” Bear said. “They shouldn’t just deny them all.”
“Willful Blindness” is a thorough review of the circumstances of Goldblum’s case, including a look at media reports at the time, alleged cover-up of evidence and purported misconduct among those seeking a conviction for Goldblum.
Bear presented a talk about his findings at an adult education event at Beth Shalom last week, at which Zeke’s brother David Goldblum from Baltimore was present, as was his sister Orah Miller, who resides in Israel. The family continues to be active in seeking Goldblum’s release, and The Chronicle featured an in-depth article about those efforts in December 2015.
“Maybe this book will help,” Bear said. “It’s all I can do.”
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.