Charles "Zeke" Goldblum was sentenced to life in prison for killing a man with garden shears in a parking garage in downtown Pittsburgh and later trying to hire a hitman to kill his accomplice in the brutal murder. As lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, Senate hopeful John Fetterman voted to set Goldblum free in 2019 and said he was "happy" when the killer was released from prison last year.
Goldblum was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1976 killing of George Wilhelm as part of an insurance fraud cover-up. According to prosecutors, Goldblum and an accomplice, Clarence Miller, lured Wilhelm to a parking garage in Pittsburgh, where Goldblum stabbed the man 26 times. While out on bail, Goldblum tried to hire an undercover police officer to murder Miller, who had fingered Goldblum for the crime.
Goldblum, who has maintained his innocence, was poised to die in prison, having unsuccessfully appealed for clemency seven times. But in 2019, Pennsylvania's Board of Pardons, which Fetterman chairs, voted unanimously to release Goldblum from jail, overriding the wishes of Wilhelm’s family. To justify its decision, the board points to the judge and prosecutor on Wilhelm's case, who have since concluded he was the accomplice rather than the principal assailant.
But in 2007, a federal appeals court rejected Goldblum's request for an evidentiary hearing, writing, "there is just too much evidence here establishing Goldblum's guilt." Both judge and prosecutor have been vague about what information motivated their reversal, and no one has claimed Goldblum is innocent of the hitman charge.
Still, Fetterman cheered when Goldblum was released from jail last year, saying he was "happy that he’s going to be going home to his family" and that Goldblum was "not a threat to public safety." The commutation was part of Fetterman’s pledge to "transform" Pennsylvania’s pardon process and free more prisoners, a record the Democrat has touted on the campaign trail. Fetterman specifically points to his efforts to end life sentences for those who are involved in murders but did not directly "pull the trigger."
Beyond Goldblum, however, Fetterman has voted to free "triggermen" convicted of first-degree murder. Last year, he was the only member of the board to vote to release Wayne Covington, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for killing a man for money to buy heroin. That ordeal has already made its way into GOP ads that argue Fetterman is "too far left" and "dangerously liberal on crime," suggesting Fetterman's record as chair of the board may not be the winning issue he thinks it is.
Following his release from prison in 2021, Goldblum admitted he hired Miller to burn down a restaurant he owned in order to collect the insurance money. The pair went on to arrange a meeting with Wilhelm, who "knew of Goldblum's involvement in the land fraud scheme and the arson" and wanted a payment, according to federal court documents reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon. Wilhelm did not leave the meeting alive—he was stabbed 26 times while in a car with Goldblum and Miller, who "agreed to lie to the police in order to provide each with an alibi" and "left the scene together," court documents show.
While out on bond and awaiting trial, Goldblum concocted a "slay-for-pay plot" to kill Miller, who was expected to testify against Goldblum, the Pittsburgh Press reported in 1976. Goldblum, according to the Press, offered an undercover detective $2,000 to whack his co-conspirator but balked at the would-be assassin's request for payment in advance, stating, "I was burned on this before. I'm not fronting anyone." Goldblum has since acknowledged he "put a hit out on Miller," who court documents describe as "the Commonwealth's chief witness."
Goldblum has claimed he was merely a witness to Miller stabbing Wilhelm, who shortly before his death told a police officer "Clarence Miller did this to me." But prosecutors have argued that Goldblum’s attempt to hire a hitman to kill Miller indicated he was guilty of killing Wilhelm, and Wilhelm’s family members strongly opposed his release, insisting he is guilty of their relative’s murder.
"His claims of innocence have no merit," Wilhelm’s niece, Sandra Horton, told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star of Goldblum in 2019. "We thought [his life sentence] would be just that—a life sentence without the possibility of parole, and that he would be made to accept his role in George’s brutal death." Horton blamed Fetterman and Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf (D.) for freeing the killer after his pardon application was denied seven times previously. "It’s Wolf and Fetterman," she said. "That’s how we got here. … The eighth time’s the charm."
Fetterman campaign spokesman Joe Calvello defended the Democrat's vote to free Goldblum, saying "John is proud of his work on the Board of Pardons giving second chances to non-violent offenders and the wrongfully convicted."
"Goldblum was wrongfully convicted and that is why John, along with every other member of the Board of Pardons, voted to recommend clemency," Calvello told the Free Beacon. "The judge and prosecutor that presided over his trial also came to this conclusion and advocated for his release."
Pennsylvania's Board of Pardons is no stranger to controversy. In 1992, board members voted to commute the sentence of serial killer Reginald McFadden. Within months of his release, McFadden killed two people and kidnapped and raped a third woman. The scandal prompted Pennsylvania voters to raise the board's approval standard from a majority vote to a unanimous one, a move that caused life-sentence commutations to plummet.
Fetterman has pushed to lower the board’s vote threshold to 4-1. In January, he appointed his campaign political director, Celeste Trusty, as secretary of the Board of Pardons. Trusty supports many of the same criminal justice reform policies as Fetterman and has called to "disarm the police." She is a supporter and self-avowed "friend" of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a former Black Panther who murdered Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner in 1981, the Free Beacon reported.