Paroled man in NC State murder may be innocent
In 1975, Betsy Rosenberg stayed up late studying for her exams, leaving the D.H. Hill Library past midnight and walking to the blue Volkswagen she had parked across Hillsborough Street. She joked with her classmates that she’d scored the best parking place that night, and as she approached her car, she waved her friends goodbye.
The 24-year-old graduate student at N.C. State University never made it home that night. Before she could start her car, someone attacked. She fought back, but her assailant struck her with a metal pole. Her husband, Edwin, woke to a call from Raleigh police.
Police interviewed more than 100 people in the following days, but it took more than five years to bring a murder indictment. The suspect, Gary Elliott Goldman, then 24, was already serving a life sentence in Georgia for killing a restaurant owner. A jury in Raleigh convicted him quickly in 1983, adding another life term.
“I think he’s where he should be,” Rosenberg’s mother, Elizabeth, told The News &Observer at the time. “We’re expecting to have a sense of closure.”
This week, the state announced it will parole Goldman at age 61, making him a free man for the first time since his teens.
Both of Rosenberg’s parents have since died, having spent their lives as advocates for parents of murdered children. Edwin Rosenberg died in 2008, after moving to Ohio and becoming an economics professor. He did not remarry, and his obituary called Betsy, dead 33 years, his wife.
But Betsy Rosenberg’s remaining family has a reaction to Goldman’s release that most would not expect.
Now a psychologist practicing outside Asheville, Jean Parks has never met the man who spent half a life behind bars for killing her older sister. But she wrote the parole commission telling its members she had no objections to his going free.
“My suspicion is that he’s innocent,” she said this week. “But even if he’s not, I felt like he had made an important transformation in prison, and he would not be a danger to other families. It served no useful purpose for him to spend more time in prison.”
The state Post-Release Supervision and Parole Commission approved 271 inmates for parole between April 2018 and last March. Its reasons for doing so are private, protected by statute.
For roughly a decade, Goldman has been represented by the N.C. Center on Actual Innocence, whose mission is to seek justice for those convicted of crimes they did not commit. Its executive director, Christine Mumma, does not know why the commission chose to let Goldman go.
But she suspects a combination of factors. For one, she said, Goldman has health issues the state may not want to take on. But more importantly, she said, a review of his trial shows he was convicted on evidence that a modern attorney would call flimsy at best.
In 1983, inmate Franklin Adams told a Raleigh jury that Goldman worked with him in the leather shop at their prison in Georgia, and twice he gave a vivid account of beating a girl to death with a metal pole. The warden there approached him about the story, telling him Raleigh police wanted to speak with him about it. At trial, Adams could not say if he was receiving any benefits from his testimony.
Jurors also heard from Tracy Current, who was a teen at the time of Rosenberg’s killing and living at the Haven House, a drug rehabilitation center. She said Goldman threw pebbles at her window late on the night of the murder, and the two of them smoked marijuana together in the Rose Garden nearby. She noticed scratches on his arm and said he told her, “She got worse.”
Mumma said this week that she visited Tracy Current in 2013, and she went by a married name at the time. She was hostile throughout the interview, Mumma said, saying she was supposed to be an anonymous witness. But when Mumma told her she was working on physical evidence to prove Goldman’s innocence, the former witness told her, “That is what I’ve been praying for. I’ve been praying for him to find the truth. But I can’t help you.”
She has since died, Mumma said.
The center tested Rosenberg’s clothes for DNA and found no match to Goldman, Mumma said. She dug forgotten records out of old warehouses and interviewed many other people, including the attorneys who represented him in the 1980s and believed him to be innocent then.
“Because it took so many years to solve,” Mumma said, “I always felt they named Gary as the suspect because of the prior conviction. ... This was being highlighted as a high-profile, unsolved murder.”
When he was convicted in 1983, Goldman asked the judge if he could serve his Georgia and North Carolina sentences concurrently, a request the judge denied.
“I have been locked up since 1976,” Goldman told the court. “Since then, I have finished high school and some college. I’m working a lot toward rehabilitation.”
He began serving his time in North Carolina in 1991.
‘I wasn’t there’
In roughly 2011, Jean Parks asked the state if a trained facilitator could act as a mediator between her and Goldman, hoping to communicate with the man serving time for her sister’s death. The state turned her down, she said. So she asked the prison holding Goldman at the time if she could send a different attorney to meet with Goldman, and he got permission.
But through the attorney, Parks said, Goldman sent back this response to her questions: “I wish I could answer Ms. Parks’ questions, but I wasn’t there.”
She always had doubts about his guilt, she said, even at the trial. But she assumed he must be guilty because his appeal was denied. She learned that Goldman had gotten involved with New Leash on Life, a program in which minimum and medium-custody inmates partner with animal shelters to train dogs that are difficult to adopt. He advanced enough in the program to train other inmates as trainers.
Then in 2018, Parks wrote a letter saying she supported Goldman’s release, guilty or not. But she suspected “not.” Prosecutors presented no physical evidence at trial, she said, and key testimony came from a prison informant.
“I’ve never had 100 percent certainty,” she said.
The case is not finished for the Center on Actual Innocence. “We don’t believe the murderer of [Betsy] Rosenberg has been charged or convicted yet,” Mumma said. “It’s getting justice for her.”
In the years after their daughter’s death, Ross and Elizabeth Parks worked avidly for Parents of Murdered Children. In 1990, they helped create a memorial wall on Fayetteville Street, placing wooden plaques with the names of murder victims. Betsy Rosenberg’s profile still appears on the POMC website.
The surviving family members are still somewhat divided about Goldman’s release, she said, though others have joined her in supporting it.
Would her parents?
“I think my mother would,” she said. “My father? I’m not so sure.”