Will the Real Andrew Goldstein Take the Stand

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Is Andrew Goldstein crazy? His future depends on it.

Jury selection is currently under way in New York City for Goldstein's retrial on charges that he murdered a woman by pushing her in front of a subway train. Last November, a jury deadlocked 10 to 2 in favor of conviction.

But something will be missing this time around. In an effort to show the real Andrew Goldstein — if such a person exists — his lawyers have taken him off the medication that keeps his schizophrenia under control. So the jurors will not see a chemically calmed defendant this time; what they will see is most likely an anxious, disturbed man forced to wallow in his illness to somehow satisfy the standards of justice. How this long and ineffably sad story came to such a pass says volumes about a woefully underfunded mental health system and a state government in denial.

It's not a matter of proving that he did it: No one disagrees that on January 3, 1999, Goldstein pushed 32-year-old Kendra Webdale to her death in front of a subway car. Regardless of the outcome, Andrew Goldstein will finally be sent someplace where he can't hurt anyone. But the fact that he begged to be hospitalized for two years before the crime, and was turned away by doctors who knew he was dangerously mentally ill, points to a system that's even crazier than he is.

For their rematch, the district attorneys will again attempt to demonstrate that Goldstein resents his mother and harbors violent feelings toward women. According to them, Goldstein shoved Webdale because he was angry at another blond woman who had just rebuffed his attempts to engage her in conversation, and is using mental illness as an excuse, playacting at being a nut.

If that's the case, Andrew Goldstein is one fine actor.

Goldstein was hospitalized 13 times in 1997 and 1998 alone and committed more than a dozen assaults, many on hospital staff, in that two-year span. In a devastating expose in the New York Times Magazine last May, Michael Winerip laid out a bleak chronicle of desperation and neglect: In addition to hearing voices, Goldstein variously asserted that someone had removed his brain; that he was six or eight inches tall; that his penis had grown from eating contaminated food; that a man named Larry was stealing his feces and eating them with a knife and fork.

Indeed, if Goldstein really was interested in acting out his violent impulses, he worked hard to sabotage those ambitions. Each one of his 13 commitments was voluntary; several times he requested long-term hospitalization; each time the system failed him. Facing a brutal state mandate to contain costs, the institutions in the New York City area from which Goldstein sought help could do nothing but put him on waiting lists that meant months of inaction. Every hospital Goldstein was discharged from knew he was dangerous. The tragedy is that in repeatedly seeking help, Andrew Goldstein behaved more responsibly than the state that is now prosecuting him.

After all this, it seems cruelly ironic that Goldstein's attorneys must try to prove that their client, with his 3,500-page mental history, is insane. So, with his consent, they have decided to take him off his medication. The reasoning goes that since the issue is Andrew Goldstein's state of mind when he killed Kendra Webdale, when he was off his medication, the deranged Goldstein should be the one the jury sees, not the pharmaceutically stabilized one whose demons are muted by drugs.

The defense's strategy has provoked accusations of unethical behavior and cruelty. When medicated, as he was during the first trial, Goldstein is stable but sluggish, and has problems concentrating; he's also unlikely to have the emotional outbursts that could provide a glimpse into the state of mind that led to Webdale's death. Untreated, Goldstein will become increasingly anxious and depressed, and could have a serious, damaging breakdown. But having narrowly averted his imprisonment in the first trial, Goldstein's lawyers feel they have little choice. Which is more cruel, a life sentence in Attica as a schizophrenic, or abetting a nervous breakdown on the witness stand to give your client a chance at getting treatment? These do not seem like choices befitting a civilized society. (A law was passed last November in New York that calls for involuntary hospitalization for up to 72 hours when mental patients refuse to take their medicine. The irony is that the so-called Kendra's law would not have prevented Webdale's death, since Goldstein was requesting, not resisting, hospitalization.)

In addition to being controversial on medical and moral grounds, the decision to take Goldstein off his medication carries legal risks. First of all, it's the defendant's state of mind when the crime was committed that matters, not his condition on the stand. The defense is counting on the legally irrelevant but nonetheless widely recognized impact of their client's demeanor in the courtroom. But if the jury feels that Goldstein is acting crazy for their benefit, as the prosecution is sure to assert, the whole ordeal may be for nought. Second, there's no telling what will happen if Goldstein testifies. "The danger of bringing a witness to the stand is that the advantages his testimony provides may be outweighed by whatever negative evidence might also come out," says TIME senior writer Alain Sanders. "You can't pick and choose the parts you like in courtroom testimony; when he's up there for cross-examination, anything can happen." Especially with a witness who once asked his doctors for glasses so he could find the people whose voices he kept hearing in his head.

So far in this trial, Goldstein has been alert, more so than the first time. But the downside is already manifesting itself: Twice in the past week Goldstein is reported to have struck a court social worker. Judge Carol Berkman has said that she will force Goldstein to take his medication if he becomes incoherent or disoriented; under her instructions, he is now being offered the drugs twice a day, and can decide whether to take them. So far he has declined. With their client's condition gradually deteriorating, Goldstein's lawyers have requested that he be allowed to testify now on videotape, in case he becomes too erratic to testify at all. That request was denied. They must now hope that he can hang in there, and that when the time comes he seem plausibly insane, but not so much so that the court has to take over — a kind of self-control that could be daunting even for a normal person being tried for murder.

Whether it's jail or the mental hospital for Andrew Goldstein, there's no outcome that will achieve justice for Kendra Webdale, who died seemingly because a state government wanted to be seen as holding firm on cutting costs. Meanwhile, Andrew Goldstein's nightmare continues, prolonged as it has been for years by a system that failed to treat him and now wants to imprison him for acts foreshadowed in letters ten feet high. Pushed by the voices that impel him to strike and hurt, he has dropped into free fall through a social safety net so tattered that he will have to become a raving performing seal on the stand just to prove what everybody but the state of New York seems to know.