MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — There is no reason to overturn the conviction of a man in a notorious 1980s sex abuse scandal, New York prosecutors announced Monday after a three-year review.
The review was prompted after the 2003 Oscar-nominated documentary “Capturing the Friedmans” questioned whether Jesse Friedman had been wrongfully prosecuted.
But Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice released a 168-page report Monday that concluded there was strong reason to investigate and prosecute both Friedman and his father, Arnold, when the scandal erupted in 1987. The new inquiry also concluded that the two abused young boys taking computer classes in the basement of their Great Neck home.
Friedman’s attorney, Ronald Kuby, called the report a “whitewash.”
“The long-awaited Rice report has been a three-year distraction from the real battle and we couldn’t resume the real battle, which takes place in court,” Kuby said in a telephone interview Monday.
Kuby said he and Friedman would continue to pursue judicial appeals.
“The past three years, we’ve spent assembling substantial quantities of new evidence,” he said. “We’re back in court on Friday attempting to obtain the original documents that make up this case — that is the original police reports and testimony from the alleged victims. We have not been provided with that by the prosecution at any time during this phony review.”
“Eventually, a judge will do the right thing,” Kuby added.
Friedman, speaking at a news conference on Monday, said he’s disappointed in the DA’s report but added he’ll continue his battle to clear his name.
“I’m standing strong and I’ve got as much fight in me – I have more fight in me than I’ve ever, ever had before. So, game on,” said Friedman.
“It’s painful when people lie about you and it’s really painful when the district attorney lies about you,” Friedman added. “It was lies that put me in prison 25 years ago and I believe that there is nothing but lies in the report that was released today.”
Rice’s review was prompted after Friedman appealed his conviction following the film’s release. A federal appeals court in 2010 refused to overturn the conviction, but encouraged Rice, who was not the prosecutor in the original case, to review the case.
“By any impartial analysis, the re-investigation process prompted by Jesse Friedman, his advocates and the 2nd Circuit, has only increased confidence in the integrity of Jesse Friedman’s guilty plea and adjudication as a sex offender,” the report stated.
About a half-dozen prosecutors, supplemented by an independent review team that included noted defense attorney Barry Scheck, investigated claims that police used flawed interview techniques, employed hypnotism to elicit victims’ memories and took advantage of a moral panic that was sweeping the country in the late 1980s.
It also examined whether Friedman had caved to pressure from a county court judge and prosecutors to plead guilty.
The report released Monday methodically addressed all those criticisms.
It noted during the first two weeks of the investigation, at least 35 children were interviewed by a team of 12 detectives working in two-person teams. No single detective dominated the investigation and different teams obtained incriminating statements from different victims, the report said.
“Given the compressed timeline, it is unlikely that detectives would have been able to repeatedly visit any one household for hours at a time to induce a child to make false accusations,” the report said.
The review team said it found no credible evidence that hypnosis was used by investigators on any child.
The Friedman case has drawn comparisons to the 1980s California McMartin preschool scandal, but the investigators said they “were in no way similar.”
In the McMartin case, the report noted, more than 200 preschool children described being sexually abused by teachers, but only after months of highly suggestive questioning by social workers working with prosecutors. The report noted in the Friedman case, the victims were more than twice as old as the McMartin preschoolers and many in the Friedman case disclosed abuse quickly.
On the issue of coercion, the review found that Friedman played a central role in his own defense.
“Primary sources, including letters, audio and videotapes, show Jesse as a maker of his own destiny,” the report said. “Jesse pled guilty because his own calculations showed it to be the optimal strategy in light of the choices available to him, not because someone else forced him to do so.”
The panel also noted that after his guilty plea, Friedman went on “The Geraldo Rivera Show” against his attorney’s advice and re-affirmed his guilt and discussed the abuse he and his father inflicted on the children.
The panel also re-interviewed parents of some of the victims and found none “have any reason today to disbelieve that their sons were victims of the Friedmans.”
The parents described their children having emotional problems, including bed wetting, defecating in their clothing, sleeplessness, nightmares, stuttering, a decline in school performance, separation anxiety and an overwhelming sense of
“Jesse remained quiet until a movie brought him back into the limelight he craved,” the report said. “Today his numerous statements are contradicted by many others. His explanations for doing things he did and saying the things he said are tortured and strain credulity.
“In short, there is no statement that Jesse makes today that can be trusted.”
Kuby criticized Rice’s role in the follow-up investigation.
“This illustrates the essential problem in prosecutors reviewing their predecessors’ misconduct and their own misconduct,” he said. “Notwithstanding the appointment of a review panel, District Attorney Rice has been the investigator, interpreter of the evidence and sole decision maker. Such power should not rest in the hands of people who have demonstrated they cannot fairly review their own work.”
The case against Arnold Friedman — an admitted pedophile — began after a child pornography magazine from the Netherlands was intercepted at the family’s home. Police found a collection of child pornography in the house and began an investigation upon learning that Arnold Friedman taught computer classes at the home.
While being questioned by police, the boys said Jesse, then a teenager, participated.
Arnold Friedman first pleaded guilty, reportedly in hopes that he could spare his son prison time. But Jesse Friedman also ended up pleading guilty, claiming he did so to avoid being convicted and sentenced to prison for life.
Jesse Friedman was shown on camera in court tearfully telling the judge his father also abused him.
Arnold Friedman committed suicide in prison in 1995, leaving behind a $250,000 life insurance benefit to his imprisoned son. Jesse Friedman was released from prison in 2001.
The acclaimed “Capturing the Friedmans” documentary a short time later featured interviews with Jesse Friedman; his brother, David; and their mother, Elaine. The film showed the breakdown of the family as documented on home video as the case against Arnold and Jesse Friedman went forward.
While the documentary took no position on the Friedmans’ guilt, filmmaker Andrew Jarecki has assisted in the quest to have Jesse Friedman’s conviction overturned.
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