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June 24, 2013

Report: “Jesse Friedman Was Not Wrongfully Convicted”

Independent advisory panel says that the Review Team was “prepared to recommend without reservation that Friedman’s conviction be overturned. But that was not how the facts played out…”

MINEOLA – The District Attorney affirms the 1988 child sexual abuse conviction of Jesse Friedman. In a 155-page report released Monday by Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, the Review Team tasked with conducting the conviction integrity investigation wrote that “…by any impartial analysis, the re-investigation process…has only increased confidence in the integrity of Jesse Friedman’s guilty plea and adjudication as a sex offender.”

An independent advisory panel appointed to guide the process found the Review Team’s conclusion to be “reasonable and supported by the evidence.”

Friedman, now 46, was 18 years old when police and prosecutors charged him and his father with sexually abusing more than a dozen local children enrolled in a computer class taught at the Friedmans’ Great Neck home. The pair pled guilty and each was sentenced to a lengthy prison term. Jesse Friedman served 13 years in prison and was paroled in 2001 without ever appealing his conviction. Upon his release from prison, Friedman was adjudicated a Level Three sex offender, a status he maintains today.

In 2004, Jesse Friedman chose for the first time in the 16 years since he pled guilty to try and overturn his conviction. His claims were based exclusively on what he believed was “newly discovered evidence” depicted in the 2003 film Capturing the Friedmans. The film attempts to cast the Friedmans as possible victims of police misconduct, community hysteria, and judicial bias.

While Friedman’s efforts were met by a string of legal defeats, included in the last of Friedman’s denied federal court motions was a 2010 recommendation that the Nassau DA’s Office re-examine the case. In August of that year, Rice announced that she would re-open the case and for the first time in state history select an independent panel of experts to guide a conviction integrity investigation.

Key Findings

The nearly three-year investigation that analyzed existing information and unearthed significant new evidence affirmed the conviction of Jesse Friedman. The investigation also added critical context, and in some cases supplied refuting evidence, to the central theories advanced by Jesse Friedman and his advocates.

  • Three victims affirmed their prior accounts to the Review Team, and at least three others maintained their accusations at various points within the last decade.
  • None of the five individuals who Friedman advocates suggest “recanted” have, in fact, recanted to any degree of legal certainty. Three have not recanted at all. Reviews of transcripts concerning these individuals reveal that abuse occurred. Another who spoke to the Review Team stood by his account, in contrast to the statement he gave to filmmakers. The subject of the most recent purported recantation has refused to speak to the Review Team or even confirm he wrote the letter outlining the claim, which was provided to the Review Team by Jesse Friedman’s lawyer.
  • Thirteen children accused Jesse Friedman of criminal misconduct within the first five weeks of the investigation.
  • The investigation also revealed additional statements alleging abuse by Jesse Friedman, obtained during the original investigation from three children who did not testify against Jesse Friedman in any grand jury and were therefore not known to anyone outside law enforcement until this Review. One additional student originally disclosed abuse against Arnold Friedman only, but has since told the Review Team that he was also abused by Jesse Friedman.
  • Incomplete and insufficient police paperwork at times hampered the Review Team’s ability to reconstruct portions of the police department investigation and decision-making process.
  • Friedman codefendant Ross Goldstein privately confessed to a childhood friend in 1989.
  • Unedited film transcripts of Judge Abbey Boklan and Detective Anthony Squeglia show that each was the subject of selectively edited and misleading film portrayals in Capturing the Friedmans.
  • The “Meyers Tape” – one of only two pieces of direct evidence of heavy-handed police interviewing techniques cited by Friedman, his advocates and the Court – is, in fact, no tape at all. All that remains of a tape that hasn’t existed for more than two decades are notes taken during its screening by a Jesse Friedman attorney. Those notes, presumably limited to information the attorney found helpful to his client’s case, were then reduced and curated by filmmakers, and read dramatically by Friedman’s attorney in Capturing the Friedmans.
  • A sworn affidavit from the therapist who treated former student “Computer Student One,” stated that she never performed hypnosis on the child. A portion of an unedited transcript of the film’s interview with “Computer Student One” contradicted his claim of pre-outcry hypnosis and had been edited out. “Computer Student One” claimed in a 2004 media report that Capturing the Friedmans “twisted” his account. The filmed allegations of “Computer Student One” remain the only direct evidence offered by Friedman or his advocates suggesting that hypnosis was used to induce victims to make accusations in this case.
  • An analysis of unrelated wrongful child abuse accusations across the country during the time period in question identified several material distinctions with the Friedman case, including: the comparatively older ages of the complainants, the plausibility of the allegations, and the criminal backgrounds of those involved (namely, Arnold Friedman’s inarguable and admitted pedophilia).
  • While maintaining his innocence prior to his eventual guilty plea, Friedman commissioned and failed at least two lie-detector tests.
  • Notes from Friedman’s attorney reveal that a psychiatrist hired by Friedman prior to his guilty plea, found Friedman to be a “narcissist” and “psychopath” who was capable of committing the crimes with which he was charged. The notes also reveal the existence of a second Friedman-hired doctor. Friedman’s lawyer eventually instructed both doctors not to issue formal reports “due to the extreme negative result”.
  • Prison disciplinary records show that Friedman was caught possessing a magazine photograph depicting two nude children, and was punished for writing allegedly fictional accounts of bestiality, incest and child rape.
  • Howard Friedman, brother of Arnold and uncle of Jesse, admitted to the Review Team that Arnold had privately confessed to him shortly after his arrest, and that Arnold admitted to him that Jesse was also involved in the abuse that occurred in the Friedman house, and that Arnold admitted molesting Jesse.
  • In a post-conviction interview by law-enforcement personnel, Arnold Friedman admitted to abusing 41 children and denied abusing 12 others.
  • Prior to his guilty plea, Friedman went to visit his father in an out-of-state prison in an effort to locate photographs of the abuse that Friedman once agreed may exist. Case files also reference a hidden closet near the computer room that was not searched by federal agents during the surprise search warrant and was later discovered empty during the execution of a state search warrant in the weeks following the Friedmans’ arrests.
  • Jesse Friedman’s willingness to tell the truth has been inconsistent, especially as it pertained to his many descriptions of his father’s guilt, his own possible victimhood, and his prior relationship with his former friend and codefendant, Ross Goldstein.

Report Conclusions

Of Friedman’s conviction, the Review Team wrote,

“…The District Attorney concludes that Jesse Friedman was not wrongfully convicted. The four principal concerns raised by the Second Circuit are not substantiated by the evidence. Further arguments for exoneration offered by advocates for Jesse lack the merit or weight required to overturn this conviction. In fact, by any impartial analysis, the re-investigation process prompted by Jesse Friedman, his advocates, and the Second Circuit, has only increased confidence in the integrity of Jesse Friedman’s guilty plea and adjudication as a sex offender.” (p. ii)

In a separate letter written by the Advisory Panel following the conclusion of the investigation, the independent experts involved in the case wrote that the DA’s Review Team

“…approached their work with no preconceived notions about Jesse Friedman’s guilt, and no agenda to preserve his conviction…the Review Team was prepared to recommend without reservation that Friedman’s conviction be overturned. But that was not how the facts played out…” (p. ii)

“While it was not the role of the Advisory Panel to make an ultimate judgment about Jesse Friedman’s culpability or make factual findings, we do have an obligation to express a view as to whether we believe the conclusions expressed in the Review Team’s Report are reasonable and supported by the evidence it cites. We think they are.” (p. iii)

Statement from District Attorney Kathleen Rice

“Instances of wrongful conviction are real and exist in far greater numbers than any of us would like to admit. Wrongful convictions undermine public safety, and they pose the greatest threat there is to the integrity required of our justice system. But the case against Jesse Friedman is not one of them.

“I came to this case without an agenda or any personal stake in its outcome, and without any interest outside of searching for the truth. We were fully prepared to exonerate Mr. Friedman if that’s where the facts led us. But the facts, under any objective analysis, led to a substantially different conclusion. This exhaustive and impartial process has only strengthened the justice system’s confidence that Jesse Friedman was involved in the sexual abuse of children.”

“While some memories have faded, many others remain strong. While some evidence has been rightly questioned, other pieces remain highly incriminating. I don’t believe anyone outside of those involved in these crimes will ever know the absolute truth to every aspect and allegation of this case. What I do know is that this investigation has given our community a clearer and more comprehensive affirmation of Jesse Friedman’s involvement in the sexual abuse of children than it has ever had before.

“It is my hope that this investigation will do two things: provide some certainty and comfort to the victims of this case, many of whom have faced a decade of relentless attacks on their credibility. And, at the same time, I hope that the historic and unprecedented nature of this process will encourage others to come forward and advocate for people who they believe have been wrongfully accused. Prosecutors must be as vigilant in preventing and investigating wrongful convictions as they are representing victims of crime. Our office’s door will remain open and we will remain aggressive in seeking the truth both before and after convictions have taken place.”

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The report is attached to this email. The report and a 917-page appendix will be available for download on the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office web site at www.nassauda.org.

pdf file Conviction Integrity Review - People v Jesse Friedman
pdf file Friedman Advisory Panel Statement
pdf file Friedman Appendix - Part 1 of 4
pdf file Friedman Appendix - Part 2 of 4
pdf file Friedman Appendix - Part 3 of 4
pdf file Friedman Appendix - Part 4 of 4