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New York’s Court of Appeals Tuesday overturned the conviction of Andrew Goldstein in the notorious subway station murder of Kendra Webdale, holding that the mentally ill defendant’s right to a fair trial was abridged when a psychiatric expert for the prosecution told the jury of hearsay conversations she had had with witnesses who were not subjected to cross examination. Tuesday’s 6-1 ruling was grounded in Crawford v. Washington, 541 US 36, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2004 confrontation clause landmark opinion that generally barred the use of so-called “testimonial” hearsay in criminal cases unless the defendant has an opportunity to question the witness. It entitles Goldstein, whose crime led to the enactment of “Kendra’s Law,” which permits compulsory treatment of the mentally ill, to a new trial — his third — as prosecutors attempt to bring to a conclusion a 1999 matter that rocked New York City and focused international attention on the legal and societal issues concerning the treatment of the dangerously mentally ill. “We are well aware of the unwelcome consequences of this result,” Judge Robert S. Smith wrote for the court, noting that Goldstein has already been tried twice, that the public has already paid for two prosecutions and that the family of Webdale must once again endure the pain and anguish of a trial. “But the constitutional rules that guarantee defendants a fair trial must be enforced, and few such rules are more important than the one that guarantees defendants the right to confront the witnesses against them,” he wrote. The court said Goldstein must be retried because a forensic psychiatrist called by the prosecution was permitted to recount for the jury the substance of interviews she conducted with six people who were not available for cross-examination. Four of those people, whose statements were relayed by the psychiatrist and never directly challenged by the defense, offered evidence or observations that cast serious doubt on Goldstein’s insanity defense. Under Crawford, the state court held, reversal is mandatory. Significantly though, the judges, while agreeing that Crawford requires reversal on federal grounds, declined to decide a potentially pivotal state law question — whether, under the New York hearsay rule, an expert witness may testify to otherwise inadmissible evidence on which he or she relied in forming an opinion. Both sides in Tuesday’s case apparently assumed that such testimony would be admissible, an assumption the court characterized as “questionable” but declined to specifically decide. People v. Andrew Goldstein, 155, is rooted in the sensational murder of Webdale on Jan. 3, 1999. On that date, Goldstein, a 30-year-old schizophrenic from Fredonia, N.Y., shoved Webdale — a total stranger — into the path of an oncoming subway train in Manhattan. With no factual question that Goldstein had killed Webdale, the defense relied entirely on an insanity defense. The first trial ended in a mistrial when the jury deadlocked on the issue of insanity. Goldstein was convicted at retrial and sentenced to a 25-year-to-life term for second-degree murder. BATTLE OF EXPERTS The second trial was largely a battle of opposing experts, with the prosecution’s psychiatrist claiming that Goldstein’s mental illness was “relatively mild” and “substantially in remission” on Jan. 3, 1999, and the defense psychiatrist maintaining that the defendant was severely psychotic and that the symptoms were possibly exacerbated by his failure to take his anti-psychotic medications. Prosecutors acknowledged that Goldstein suffered from a mental illness, but argued that the defendant was basically a manipulative predator who conveniently used his handicap as an excuse every time he chose to behave in an anti-social manner. At trial, forensic psychiatrist Angela Hegarty explained that she had interviewed six people whose observations and experiences with Goldstein helped her form an opinion that he was not legally insane. Hegarty was permitted to relay to the jury what those interviewees told her, and the substance of four of those interviews troubled the Court of Appeals. One was with a security guard who told Hegarty that two years before the attack on Webdale, Goldstein had assaulted someone and, immediately after being seized, stressed that he suffers from schizophrenia — an indication perhaps that he tended to use his mental illness as an excuse. Another involved the girlfriend of Goldstein’s former roommate. She told the psychiatrist that Goldstein had been “tease[d]” by a stripper bearing a “ remarkable similarity” to Webdale — implying that Goldstein attacked Webdale out of lingering range and knew what he was doing when pushed her in front of the subway. A third interviewee told Hegarty that Goldstein had exposed himself to a woman, behavior that could suggest sexual frustration. And a fourth, a former roommate, said that Goldstein may have been a “little weird” but showed no indication that he was, as the court put it, “a hopelessly out-of-control schizophrenic.” All seven judges agreed that admission of that evidence constituted a Crawford violation. Judge Susan Phillips Read argued in dissent that the error was harmless. HEARSAY TESTIMONY In the majority opinion, the Court dealt first with the defendant’s argument that Hegarty’s testimony regarding her interviews was inadmissible hearsay under New York rules because it was not established that the information on which she relied in forming an opinion was of the sort commonly accepted by her profession. The court rejected that argument and went on to discuss an issue that was not raised — whether an opinion of Hegarty that was gleaned from the inadmissible interviews was itself admissible. “Both parties seem to assume that … Hegarty was free … not only to express her opinion but to repeat to the jury all the hearsay information on which it was based,” Smith wrote. “That is a questionable assumption.” The court noted that under the Federal Rules of Evidence otherwise inadmissible facts cannot be disclosed to a jury by an expert witness unless the trial judge determines that the probative value of the information outweighs its prejudicial impact. “We are not called upon to decide here, and do not decide, whether the New York rule is the same as, or less or more restrictive, than this federal rule,” Smith wrote. ‘TESTIMONIAL’ STATEMENTS On the core Crawford issue, the court said the prosecution clearly wanted the jury to accept as true Dr. Hegarty’s recount of her interviews. It also said that the statements were “testimonial” and gathered in a “formal” fashion. The court rejected the prosecution’s claim that Crawford did not apply because the statements at issue were not made to a government agent. “The Confrontation Clause would offer too little protection if it could be avoided by assigning the job of interviewing witnesses to an independent contractor rather than an employee,” Smith wrote. Read noted that the jurors deliberated only two hours during the second trial, suggesting they “rejected what they must have viewed as a rather outlandish defense theory” regarding insanity. Consequently, she maintained, the defendant is not entitled to a new trial for the Crawford violation. The majority, however, said that while the prosecution’s case for sanity was strong, it was hardly irrefutable. “The question before the jury was, in essence, what was going on in defendant’s admittedly diseased mind at the time he committed a bizarre, horrifying act; this is not an easy question to answer with complete certainty,” Smith wrote. Webdale’s murder sparked public and political concern, leading to the enactment of the “assisted outpatient treatment” act, or “Kendra’s Law.” Gov. George E. Pataki had pushed to make the law permanent when it sunset earlier this year, but the Legislature instead extended it another five years. Tuesday, the Pataki administration commented on the Court of Appeals ruling only to the extent of noting that the ruling does not affect the continued application of Kendra’s Law. Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Morrie I. Kleinbart argued for the prosecution. Natalie B. Rea of the Legal Aid Society, counsel for Goldstein, said the defense has always insisted that the defendant is “profoundly mentally ill” and Tuesday’s decision ensures “that a jury will have an opportunity to properly consider his psychiatric defense.”

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