When it comes to Bernhard Hugo Goetz, the once-sympathetic, even heroic "subway vigilante," the more New Yorkers know him, the less they seem to like him.
A backlash has swept the city as details of Goetz's subway shooting of four black youths last December come to light and Goetz, after a two-month silence, has begun to speak his mind.
New York Police Chief Benjamin Ward, ridiculing the notion that Goetz acted in self-defense, compared supporters to "a lynch mob." This week the Daily News accused Goetz of symbolizing "mass latent homicidal rage" and chided "people who line up to buy T-shirts emblazoned with things like 'Bernie Goetz Me Off.' "
The New York Times editorial page today warned, "The cheering should stop."
Amid the negative publicity, District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau announced Thursday that he is considering submitting the case to another grand jury if new evidence surfaces. The first grand jury refused to indict Goetz in January for attempted murder, indicting him instead on illegal weapons charges.
Morgenthau has been sharply criticized for failing to seek a tougher ruling from the grand jury. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) recently called on the state attorney general to take over the case, leading a miffed Morgenthau to dub the senator "the Bernie Goetz of Pennsylvania politics."
"He shoots at targets of opportunity," Morgenthau said of Specter. "He's got his press releases ready."
Meanwhile, the electronics engineer, 37, whose name has become a household word, is unrepentant. "Once again, I'm back to being cornered like a rat," Goetz told the New York Post. "Now suddenly all the experts are trying to be armchair quarterbacks."
If his case is submitted to another grand jury and he is charged with a more serious crime, he said, "society will be the loser because it will show that politics can pressure a grand jury."
While many assumed that the January indictment had relieved the Goetz-mania that had gripped the city, if not the nation, Goetz's unexpected appearance last weekend at the arraignment of a man dubbed by city tabloids as another vigilante sparked an outbreak of new publicity.
"BERNIE BUDDIES UP TO AVENGER" was the New York Post's headline when Goetz showed up to hug a weeping and somewhat reluctant black factory worker who had fatally stabbed a candy thief after an altercation at a subway newsstand.
"I think the public should relate to this man," Goetz announced to television cameras. "We need more of this."
Later, Goetz, accompanied by Roy Innis, head of the Congress of Racial Equality, an early Goetz supporter, tried to attend the funeral of a 71-year-old former Harlem school principal who had been shot to death while driving a cab. They were ousted by the family and friends of the dead man.
Goetz then gave interviews to the tabloids, saying that New York City "is sick from one end to the other" and that more citizens should be allowed to carry guns and be trained to protect themselves.
Mayor Edward I. Koch, who earlier had called Goetz's actions self-defense, labeled that proposal "an outrageously bad idea."
The most recent outraged reaction, however, was sparked by the release of a confession transcript in which Goetz admitted that he shot one of his victims a second time after leaning over him and saying, "You don't look so bad; here's another."
While the gruesome quote captured headlines, it did not constitute new evidence. "There's a lot of sound and fury," Morgenthau said in an interview today, but he added that the transcript had been given to the grand jury and that the gist of it had come out publicly at Goetz's arraignment.
A Daily News editorial today described Morgenthau as a man who "tap-dances on the heads of legalistic pins or bob s and weave s , duck s and feint s " and the paper demanded that the case go to trial. Morgenthau defended his handling of the case, saying that under New York law, he was prohibited from telling the grand jury what to do. "They took their job very seriously and they were a good cross section of the city," he said. But he added that "that doesn't mean I have to agree with what they did."