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In-Laws Implicated in Murder Plot

January 15, 2000

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) _ Peter Zeihen had in-law troubles, and that’s what killed him, prosecutors say.

The 40-year-old electrical contractor was going through a bitter divorce in November 1991 when he was shot in the head at close range as he sat in a car outside his girlfriend’s apartment.

Investigators say Zeihen’s mother-in-law shot him, his brother-in-law supplied the weapon, and his father-in-law drove the getaway car.

Prosecutors believe the family of his wife killed Zeihen to prevent him from gaining custody of the couple’s 3-year-old daughter

It grew into a web of bribery, arson, aborted murder-for-hire plots and finally a murder that stayed secret until authorities were contacted last summer by the brother-in-law, Theil T. Goldberg.

Goldberg, 37, told sheriff’s deputies he had been troubled for years about his parents involvement in the murder, and he was coming forward in the belief his mother was becoming extremely dangerous again.

He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder Thursday after reaching a deal with Spokane County prosecutors. They likely will request a 10-year prison term.

His father, Morris ``Mel″ Goldberg, 68, backed out of a plea agreement at the last minute Thursday and was jailed for aggravated first-degree murder.

The same charge was simultaneously filed against his ex-wife, JoAnn Goldberg Peterson, 62, who now lives in Moyie Springs, Idaho. She is awaiting trial in northern Idaho on an unrelated federal charge of possessing a machine gun.

Zeihen’s wife, Orinne Goldberg, has not been charged in the case. But investigators say they are continuing to look into any involvement she may have had.

The unraveling of the case is a relief to Zeihen’s family, said their lawyer, Peter Schweda. He represented Zeihen in his divorce and later helped his parents block Orinne Goldberg from rights to the slain man’s estate.

During the custody dispute over their child, Orinne Goldberg accused her estranged husband of molesting the girl. A police investigation determined the allegation was unfounded, and court documents allege Orinne Goldberg and her mother made it up to prevent him from gaining custody.

Zeihen was repeatedly harassed and threatened in the months leading up to the divorce trial.

Three weeks before it was to start, he was attacked by a disguised assailant who fired several shots after Zeihen left his apartment. Zeihen, wearing a bulletproof vest and a holstered gun for protection, wasn’t injured, but the assailant got away.

Then, on Nov. 18, 1991, just over a week before the trial was to begin, Zeihen was shot to death as he waited outside his girlfriend’s apartment.

His mother-in-law allegedly fired a single shot from a 12-gauge shotgun at close range, killing him instantly, court documents say.

She later told a friend she wanted Zeihen to recognize ``who was going to kill him just before the fatal shot was fired,″ investigators said.

``JoAnn talked about Zeihen looking directly into her eyes moments before he died, realizing that it was her, which was exactly what she wanted to see happen,″ sheriff’s Detective Mark Henderson said in court documents.

Mel Goldberg drove a getaway car that had been stolen earlier that day.

The gun was provided by Theil Goldberg, who had taken it from neighbors, documents allege.

After the neighbors, Robert Lamm and Marcie Harrington, told Mel Goldberg they planned to contact police, their home burned in the middle of the night, court papers say. They escaped, and the fire was thought to be arson.

Under Washington law, a conviction for aggravated first-degree murder carries either capital punishment or life in prison without parole. But Deputy prosecutor Steven Kinn said he will not seek the death penalty against the three.

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