Goff pleads

Steven Goff, of Ventnor, pleads guilty in court, Thursday June 20, 2013, to charges he killed Frederick Hart, 15, in 1990. Goff stood in front of Judge Michael Donio in Hamilton Township during his arraignment. (The Press of Atlantic City/Staff Photo by Michael Ein)

MAYS LANDING -- A Ventnor man who turned himself in for a 23-year-old killing April 1 confessed one more time Thursday — to the judge.

Steven Goff, now 41, said he was an 18-year-old “in a rage” when he stabbed Frederick Hart, 15, and left him to die in the woods behind their Galloway Township homes.

In a jailhouse interview with The Press of Atlantic City shortly after turning himself in, Goff said he could no longer live with the guilt of what he had done and — as the estranged father of a teen son — knew the family needed to know what happened.

Goff pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter Thursday, in what was originally supposed to be his arraignment on a murder charge. He faces a 30-year prison term with 15 years of parole ineligibility under the plea agreement. Chief Assistant Prosecutor John Maher pointed out that Goff’s crime happened before the creation of the No Early Release Act, meaning any sentence would not include that a mandatory 85 percent be served.

Freddy Hart’s family reported him missing May 9, 1990, the day after Goff said he stabbed him twice in the torso and once “in the upper neck area.” In December 1991, a hunter came across the teen’s remains.

Retired Galloway police Chief Keith Spencer — who was a detective on the case — previously told The Press that he had always suspected Goff in the killing.

“It was not something I could prove, but there was enough that led directly to him,” he said.

When Goff first turned himself in, he said police didn't believe him, especially considering the day he chose to confess: April Fool's Day.

But his confession was corroborated by evidence collected by investigators.

“Mr. Goff was absolutely adamant that he accept responsibility for this,” defense attorney James Leonard Jr. said outside the courtroom Thursday. “He was less concerned with himself as opposed to getting this off his chest and bringing closure to the victim’s family.”

Goff did not say what caused his rage that day, but he did admit to being a heavy user of anabolic steroids at the time.

“I make no excuse for my actions,” he told Superior Court Judge Michael Donio.

The judge asked Goff whether his attorney had discussed the steroids as a possible defense, but Goff said it only meant a “diminished capacity” and could be a “mitigating factor.”

“I confessed,” he said earlier in the hearing. “There really was no defense.”

Goff has been held at the Atlantic County jail on $1 million cash bail since he confessed. He will be sentenced July 19.

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