After hearing emotional statements from Tim Smith's family members and friends, visiting Judge Graham Cribbs sentenced Jon David Goldberg to 15 years to life in prison Oct. 19 for the Fortuna volunteer firefighter's murder but struck down a firearm enhancement that would have added 25 years to his term.
The judge handed down his decision after denying Goldberg's petition for a new trial following a week of essentially conducting "a trial within a trial," in which 10 jurors in the case were questioned in a closed courtroom about their conduct to probe defense allegations of misconduct by the jury foreperson.
Cribbs also gave a 15-minute soliloquy about overseeing the trial, interposed with a few jokes and a pointed jab at one of the prosecutors' punctuality, calling the case a "human tragedy" while recounting several versions of the sentiment that "we are all human beings, we all have failings."
"It's mind-boggling to think things like this can happen over something ... I would say was foolish," he said.
Goldberg was found guilty of second degree murder in March for fatally shooting Smith in front of his son outside of the family's Rohnerville Road home Sept. 26, 2016, shortly after finding out that the 42-year-old father of two had had an affair with his wife, a situation Cribbs made veiled references to in his courtroom address.
In an unusual move for a murder defendant, Goldberg testified during his month-long trial, saying he shot Smith in self-defense when Smith grabbed his hand. The prosecution painted the picture of a premeditated murder in retaliation for his friend's betrayal, according to media reports.
While describing his reasoning for denying a new trial in the case, Cribbs explained that Goldberg's defense counsel Casey Russo had presented enough evidence to question the jurors but the defense successfully rebutted the misconduct allegations.
"The court made the finding that the People had met that burden," the judge said.
In a strongly worded statement released after the Oct. 19 hearing, the Humboldt County Public Defender's Office disputed that contention, saying Goldberg was denied a new trial despite "conclusive evidence" of jury misconduct.
Also noted was Cribbs' decision to close the jury questioning over defense objections, which were "based on the belief that one of the primary reasons we have open courts is to ensure transparency in our system and that transparency is essential to the protection of due process.
"Unfortunately, the public did not get to see any part of a proceeding in this case that dealt with a crucial aspect of due process, the right to a fair and impartial jury," the release continues.
The request for a new trial centered on comments the jury foreperson reportedly made during deliberations about having served on a previous murder trial, including how that "defendant was convicted of first degree murder but only served eight years in state prison" and that "in California criminal defendants only do half of their sentences."
According to the public defender's office, those were "gross misstatements" of sentencing law in murder cases aimed at one juror "who ultimately voted for second degree murder rather than manslaughter."
"Defense counsel believes, and it was argued before Judge Cribbs, that it takes no stretch of the imagination to understand how a person could succumb to pressure to vote for murder over manslaughter, upon being told that the sentence for murder is significantly lower than he/she believed," the statement reads. "Despite the conclusive evidence that this misconduct occurred, the defense motion was nonetheless denied."
Cribbs' decision to deny a new trial is subject to appeal, according to the public defender's office.
Several members of Smith's family, including his sister and widow, addressed the court during the Oct. 19 hearing, giving emotional statements about how their lives and those of their children have been irrevocably altered by Goldberg's actions that day.
"Fuck you, Jon Goldberg, excuse my language," Smith's sister Gigi said through sobs, describing Smith as a father figure in her life. "He never deserved. He never deserved this. He'll never be with us again. ... That's my family. That's my nephews' daddy. You fucking took him away. ... I'm angry and I am hurt and devastated but remember, you never, never should have had in your mind to take someone's life."
Smith's widow, Jessica Springer, also spoke, saying the couple had planned on "getting old together" in a relationship that began when she was 13 and he was 14. She described how Smith was an adrenaline junkie who loved doing extreme sports and she was somewhat relieved when he decided to transfer some of those energies into firefighting along with his regular job as a bus driver.
"He worked amazingly hard," Springer told the judge, adding that Smith was working to launch the Eel River Technical Rescue Team at the time of his death. "He was an amazing person, the things he could do."
She urged Cribbs to give Goldberg the harshest sentence possible, saying she was not out for revenge but justice, and it was unfair that he could still see his children while her sons were left without a father just as they were entering manhood.
"I pray that he is held accountable for his actions," Springer said. "I just want him to know how horribly he hurt my children."
Goldberg, who at times turned toward the speakers during the hearing, had been facing 40 years to life before Cribbs struck down a 25-year sentencing enhancement for using a firearm to commit the murder, which was within the judge's discretion.
Deputy District Attorney Luke Bernthal argued against the lesser sentence, saying "the case has always smacked me as almost an execution."
"The truth is we would not be in the position we are today if Mr. Goldberg had not made the decision to take a loaded gun to Mr. Smith's house and shoot him five times," he told the judge.
Goldberg's attorney Casey Russo gave his condolences to Smith's family, turning to face them in the courtroom gallery and saying the "weight of your words is not lost on anyone."
He said all indications are that his client was "not in his right mind" the day he drove to Smith's home and that Goldberg, in fact, had a history of "trying to defuse conflicts."
"That is a trip everyone wishes Mr. Goldberg had not taken," Russo said.
Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor and a staff writer at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 323, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @kimberly_wear.