Witness Manipulation

One tactic actively pursued by the police in their prosecution of Zeke Goldblum was manipulation of witnesses, both those who testified against him and those who might have testified in his defense.

It has long been known that Clarence Miller changed his stories about what had happened, both on his own and also at the suggestions of Pittsburgh Police homicide detectives.  Miller testified as such in the PCHA application he filed in 1980, two years after his own conviction. (pcha-miller-deposition-may-1980)

Recently however, more than 40 years after the crime, several items of new information have surfaced that strongly indicate the police also took an active role in preventing the testimony of several witnesses who would have contradicted Miller’s assertions and destroyed the prosecution’s case.  The two witnesses, Thaddeus Dedo and Fred Orlosky, were both involved with Clarence Miller in the land fraud perpetrated against Wilhelm in 1974.

The Intimidation of Thaddeus Dedo

At Zeke Goldblum’s trial in 1977, the prosecution presented that the main motive for his involvement in George Wilhelm’s killing was his participation the 1974 land fraud. Wilhelm had originally filed a complaint with the FBI on October 9 of that year, but then retracted the statement three days later, issuing a comical letter also signed by Clarence Miller. The FBI had already opened an investigation file, but after the complaint was withdrawn, the case was closed, and the matter forgotten, until the murder of George Wilhelm in Feb 1976.

Despite being named in the victim’s dying declaration, Miller was permitted to falsely testify that Zeke was involved in the land fraud scheme and thus had a motive to murder Wilhelm. Unfortunately, the jury believed Miller’s lies.

Thaddeus “Ted” Dedo, the land fraud co-conspirator who posed as Ken Manella, was ready to voluntarily offer his testimony that Zeke was not in any way involved in the scheme.

However, at the time of Zeke’s trial, Dedo was unable to testify via subpoena, because he was involved in the pending trial on the land fraud. Through his attorney, Dedo informed the court and prosecutor that he would testify on Zeke’s behalf if he was granted immunity from his statement not being used against him in his own trial trial. Unfortunately, Dedo was neither granted immunity nor were his charges dropped by the DA.  If heard by the jury, his exculpatory testimony would have countered Miller’s lies and eliminated the prosecution’s primary motive for Zeke to assault Wilhelm.

Dedo’s unwillingness to testify has been attributed to his not being granted immunity. While that must certainly been a factor, there was an even more primal reason: fear.

Dedo stated on numerous occasions that the reason was he was afraid of getting beaten up again by police. His fear was documented at least twice.

An investigator who served him with a subpoena on June 24, 1977 noted, “This witness states he was physically attacked and beaten by Det. Lenz at coroner’s inquest. Is very fearful of further abuse.”

Seven years later, on April 9, 1984, John Portella, an investigator working on the Goldblum case, filed this report:

portella-quote

 

Then most recently, on May 5, 2016, during a visit to Zeke in prison, Ernest Orsatti, a law school classmate of his, long time supporter of his cause, and now a highly respected labor lawyer, made a missing connection. Being apprised of the two reports about Dedo, he remembered an incident he had personally witnessed.

As a close friend (Zeke had been an usher in his wedding) and young lawyer, Orsatti attended the coroner’s inquest for George Wilhelm on February 18, 1976. As Orsatti explained in an affidavit, notarized May 27, 2016:

“I was a law school classmate of Charles J. Goldblum and have been a close personal friend of his since that time. I have been licensed to practice in Pennsylvania sine October 15, 1974, and my area of concentration is labor and employment law.

Prior to my discussion with Jim Ramsey, Marc Simon, and David Bear on May 5, 2016, I never saw a connection between an incident that I observed on February 18, 1976, the day of the coroner’s inquest regarding the death of George Wilhelm and Zeke Goldblum’s case.

Let me describe what I observed. I attended the coroner’s inquest regarding George Wilhelm’s death.  After the inquest, I returned to my office which was in the Lawyer’s Building, a short distance away. While leaving, I was outside the County Morgue, where the inquest took place, and I noticed a white-haired detective, who I identified shortly thereafter to be Charles Lenz, as he calmly but viciously punched a smaller, dark-haired, and younger white male. The one punch knocked the man to his knees. He got up and quickly scurried away, and Lenz calmly walked away as if nothing had happened.

I remember that I knew at the time that the assailant was a police officer, although I don’t recall why I knew that. I may have seen a badge on his belt or I may have seen him before. But I am certain that the assailant was Charles Lenz.

The incident stuck in my head because it made me concerned about Charles Lenz and his willingness to assault someone in broad daylight in front of witnesses. I made a mental note to watch out for him, in case he was involved in any other incidents.

However, prior to May 5, 2016, I thought the incident that I observed was just an unrelated example of police abuse of power. Also, since I did not observe what preceded the punch, I was not completely certain that the conduct was not justified.

I don’t know what Thaddeus Dedo looked like. But if Dedo said that he was assaulted by Lenz on the day of the inquest, as indicated in investigator reports dated June 24, 1977 and April 9, 1984, which I have just seen for the first time, then what I observed would very likely have been that incident.”

While it is no longer possible to know what provoked the brazen punch Orsatti witnessed, and both Lenz and Dedo have long since died, it is fair to speculate both about what brought Dedo to the inquest and what prompted Lenz, a senior homicide detective nick-named “the Silver Fox,” to attack him so openly.

This much we do know.

Wilhelm’s inquest was held on February 18, nine days after his murder. While the land fraud was not public knowledge at that time, both Freeman and Lenz, his immediate superior, would have known about it. The FBI had passed on its investigative file on the land fraud case file to Police Superintendent Robert Coll on February 12, six days earlier. They had already decided to prosecute Goldblum for Wilhelm’s murder, using Miller’s uncorroborated testimony to do so.

What drew Dedo to the inquest? There was no reason for him to be summoned to testify about Wilhelm’s murder.  He was Miller’s friend, but he might also have been concerned about how the murder might affect Miller and, by association, also implicate him through his involvement in the land fraud.

At any rate, we know Dedo showed up at the Coroner’s Inquest and likely heard Miller testify that “Dedo was with him and Zeke when they did a walk-through of the restaurant.”

We also know from Zeke that when he and Miller walked through the 5th Avenue Inn prior to the fire, they were alone.

Perhaps, knowing that Miller was lying, Dedo made a comment that was overheard.

Whatever happened, Lenz saw Dedo outside the coroner’s office and felt compelled to deliver such a forceful message in so public a place.

We know that Dedo could and would have testified both that he had played no role in the purported arson nor had Goldblum been involved in the land fraud. Miller was the only person he knew anything about.

Apparently, the Silver Fox decided that Dedo needed to keep his mouth closed and not say anything that might impugn the police’s star witness.

This shows that the police collusion was broader than just Freeman. Why is this important?

When Dedo was silenced by Dixon not granting immunity nor dismissing the Land Fraud charge (a case later dismissed without trial), Zeke was denied due process. Dixon later claimed that he was trying to be “creative” at Zeke’s trial and allow Dedo’s testimony, but he knew there was a Due Process issue.

The suppression of Fred Orlosky

Recently, another important new item of evidence turned up regarding the other participant in the land fraud.

On Aug 3, 2016, the FBI released its report of the investigation it had conducted into the land fraud, under the second FOIA request we had filed. The earlier version had been heavily redacted. This time, providing proof that Fred Orlosky, one of the named participants, had since died, we requested a less redacted version. Though still redacted, it revealed important new information.

Remember that Miller accused Zeke of masterminding the land fraud, and based solely on his assertions, the prosecution presented it as his motive to assault Wilhelm. Miller also asserted that Wilhelm was the arsonist who burned Zeke’s restaurant, which provided additional motive to want to silence him.

Had either or both motives been shown to be false, Zeke would never have been convicted.

What we know about the land fraud

We knew that the FBI had decided not pursued the land fraud case in October 1974 after Wilhelm retracted his earlier statement.

We also knew that on February 12, 1976, three days after the attack on Wilhelm, the US Attorney’s office forwarded the FBI’s 1974 information about the land fraud to Pittsburgh police and prosecutors, without either a request or authorization.

We know Zeke was released on bail on April 7, 1976. That evening Zeke was arraigned at night court, and the state charged him as part of the land fraud, but he was permitted to go free.

According to the recent FOIA report, on April 12, 1976, five days later, the FBI began to consider reopening its 1974 land fraud investigation, and they subsequently contacted both Orlosky and Dedo.

Perhaps for reasons stated above, Dedo refused to participate.  But to mitigate his own involvement, Orlosky agreed to cooperate with the FBI investigation.  According to the new FOIA file, we learned that he voluntarily submitted to TWO polygraph examinations on September 29, 1976. The FOIA file we received does not provide details about the 20 questions Orlosky was asked nor his answers. The report notes only that, “It is the opinion of the examiner that Orlosky was being truthful in his answers.”

We are working to get those documents, but in the meantime, it is safe to assume the FBI would have asked Orlosky whether if Zeke had participated in the land fraud. We know this from an interview with Orlosky on April 10, 1984 during which he said Zeke was never involved in it.

If Orlosky ‘s polygraphs would have cleared Zeke from involvement in the land fraud, he has a legal claim for AFTER DISCOVERED EVIDENCE and a BRADY VIOLATION, because his defense was not provided with exculpatory information.

The FOIA file clearly shows the Pittsburgh Police and the FBI were working together at that point and exchanging investigative information. The FBI should have notified the DA and Freeman that Orlosky had cleared Zeke, but they withheld that information. Or did they?

We also know from the recently obtained FOIA file that on another occasion, August 10, 1976, the FBI wired Miller and sent him to meet with Dedo in front of his lawyer’s office on Smithfield Street. The FBI was trying to indict Dedo and would have given Miller questions to ask Dedo to incriminate himself. The meeting took place, but Dedo refused to get involved with a conversation. While we don’t have either the recording or the questions Miller was to ask, we do have the report filed by the FBI on the incident.

While we do not have Orlosky’s Grand Jury testimony, the FOIA files show that the FBI also contacted city police and asked whether “it would interfere with their murder case if they gave Orlosky immunity or gave him polygraphs.” And further, “Freeman told them that it would not interfere with their case.”  We don’t have the questions and answers during either to Orlosky’s interview or his polygraph.

So, if the FBI felt the need to corroborate Miller’s testimony, why didn’t Freeman and Dixon immunize both Dedo and Orlosky?

The answer is simple, they knew that Orlosky and Dedo would have cleared Zeke in the land fraud, eliminating their first motive for murder.

What we know about the arson

We know that the police and district attorney’s office did not believe Miller when he claimed that Wilhelm was the arsonist.  But they still let him testify that way and without any corroboration. 

We know the Pittsburgh-area had more than a million residents at the time the crime was committed, and not one creditable witness came forward to say they ever saw Zeke and Wilhelm together, prior to the meetings at McDonalds.

We know that the police gave Miller at least three polygraph tests in the months after the murder, and he failed them all. The last reported polygraph (May 25, 1976) stated that Miller was lying about not being involved in the arson. None of these were shared with the defense.

We also know the police did an extensive investigation of Wilhelm’s background and found him to be an honest person with absolutely nothing to tie him to the arson. The police and prosecutor never presented any evidence or corroboration for Miller’s assertions about Zeke’s involvement with the fraud or Wilhelm’s involvement with the arson.

On the contrary, in addition to Miller’s polygraph tests, they had statements from psychologists who examined him, who said he was lying and could not be believed.

We know that Dixon and Freeman did not offer immunity to Dedo or Orlosky. 

We know that, if the FBI told the police in September of 1976 that Orlosky’s polygraphs had cleared Zeke, they had good reason for not giving immunity to him or Dedo. That would have ended their effort to convict Zeke.

If Orlosky or Dedo said they never did a walk-through with Zeke at the restaurant prior to the arson, as Miller asserted, then the prosecution’s second and final motive for him to murder Wilhelm would have evaporated.

Because Zeke had no motive or reason to bring harm to Wilhelm, by refusing to release details about Orlosky’s polygraph questions and answers, the FBI is contributing to his wrongful incarceration.

Everyone charged in this complex case has since died, except Zeke. The prosecutor, Peter Dixon, has also died. The criminal statute of limitations for any individuals who might have been in involved in the “miscarriage of justice” that was perpetrated on Zeke has long since expired. No one can be injured, so the FBI can’t hide behind privacy any longer. They should be ordered to release the entire file.


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TV Report on Zeke’s case

It has been more than 20 years since Ken Rice filed this in-depth report on Zeke’s case. 20 years since Zeke’s judge and prosecutor both labeled his trial “A Miscarriage of Justice.”

And 20 years later, Zeke is still in prison, serving a life sentence for a crime he did not commit.

 

Quotes

"Clarence . . . Clarence Miller did this to me." George Wilhelm's dying declaration to police, February 9, 1976 (T.T. 1528).

". . . Goldblum was not the individual who inflicted the fatal stab wounds on Mr. George Wilhelm." Dr. Cyril Wecht, Coroner of Allegheny County in letter to Board of Pardons, September 1, 1994; Henry Lee, Ph.D., report dated February 25, 1997.

"This is the one case in 21 years [as a judge] which seriously troubles my conscience about the result." The Honorable Donald Ziegler as quoted in Michael Bucsko, Judge Haunted by Dying Man's Last Sentences, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 5, 1995.

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