The Sleepy, Unpardonable Killer

Getting out of prison early takes special effort, and Morris “Mel” Goldberg has provided his fellow prisoners with a lesson on how not to do it.

“If you feel it is better for me to remain incarcerated,” the 78-year-old Monroe inmate recently told the state Clemency and Pardons Board, “so be it.”

Goldberg was seeking a pardon from a 26-year term based on his age, health, and a promise that he’s a changed man. He was convicted with his wife of the Nov. 18, 1991, Spokane murder of their son-in-law Peter Zeihen, who they claimed was a child molester.

Speaking via phone to the board—and explaining that he’d woken up just a few moments earlier—Goldberg seemed to elicit little sympathy and provided some classically lame responses.

About “this homicide that occurred,” he said, “I errored in my judgment.” He was sorry, but he wasn’t the “one who actually performed the function”—his wife did, blowing most of Zeihen’s head off with a shotgun. (Zeihen was wearing a bullet-proof vest after the grandmother and grandfather had earlier tried but failed to shoot him.)

Board chair Margaret Smith pointed out that at his trial, Goldberg admitted to his role in the shooting and said “I’d do it again.” Goldberg responded: “I was still under the influence of my ex-wife at the time.” He now regretted participating. “I would gladly yield up my own life if he could have his [back],” he said. His Heavenly Father, Goldberg said, had changed him from “that creature that I was.”

When told the board had received many letters in opposition to his release because he “had struck fear in the heart of people,” Goldberg responded: “I have? Should have been my wife!”

The now-grown daughter whom Zeihen allegedly molested gave a brief, dramatic statement supporting her grandfather: “Words are cheap,” she said sitting before the board, “and you may not believe what I have to say, but he was right. The abuse did happen. The evidence was thrown out of court. That man saved my life. I wouldn’t of had him do anything different.”

But Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker told the board there was “no evidence ever found of any child molestation” and that the grandparents were “wrongly and mistakenly” informed. He also noted that Goldberg’s wife JoAnn Peterson (now serving 25 years) wanted Zeihen to see who was about to kill him, making him look down the barrel as she fired. Because Zeihen was given no mercy, said Tucker, neither of the killers have earned it.

Goldberg still wanted out—maybe. “Whether I remain in prison or not is irrelevant to me, because I’m going to wind up, in too few short years, underground anyway. So all these things are just temporal, my life is temporal, just like yours [the board’s]. So was Peter Zeihen’s, apparently.”


“I am tired. I am tired of life itself. I really have no more comments to make. You make your decision.”

They quickly did, stamping his file “Don’t pardon.” It was unanimous.