Barry Scheck Urges New York Court to Reopen Jesse Friedman’s 1989 Mass Sex Abuse Conviction

Barry Scheck, the most prominent member of District Attorney Kathleen Rice’s “Friedman Case Advisory Panel” and co-founder of The Innocence Project, submitted a sworn statement  asking the Nassau County Court to undertake a “full evidentiary hearing” and release to Friedman’s lawyers the original case files that have been kept secret by the DA for over 25 years. He joins a chorus of other respected voices in criminal justice in requesting the disclosure of the investigative files that were not made available to the Advisory Panel.

“I believe it would be desirable for the court and the parties, utilizing whatever procedural mechanisms the court deems suitable, to review materials not available to the Advisory Panel, such as grand jury minutes, the original case file, and the results of the re-investigation to aid in finally resolving, to the extent possible the issue of Jesse Friedman’s guilt or innocence.”

Friedman, whose wrongful conviction was chronicled in the Oscar nominated film, Capturing the Friedmans, today, June 13, 2014, filed a motion with the Nassau County Court asking to overturn his conviction and dismiss the charges on the grounds of actual innocence, and that unlawfully coerced testimony was presented before the grand jury in 1988. Friedman was charged with 243 counts of child sexual abuse and sodomy, and forced to plead guilty after being threatened with life in prison by Judge Abigail Boklan who, despite hearing no evidence in the case, was convinced of Jesse Friedman’s guilt. Friedman served 13 years in maximum-security prisons and remains branded as a Level III sex offender.

In 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an extraordinary opinion, concluding that there was a “reasonable likelihood Jesse Friedman was wrongfully convicted.” The justices called for the Nassau DA to allow for an evidentiary hearing, but she chose instead to conduct a “conviction review.”

The filing comes a year after Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice rejected Friedman’s innocence claims after a 2 1/2 year “conviction integrity review.” Rice, who is now running for congress, issued a scathing and gratuitous report  that revealed  that her office had no intention of following the Second Circuit’s request to honestly reinvestigate the case.

Recantation of Chief Prosecution Witness

Friedman cites evidence of his innocence including a complete recantation from Ross Goldstein, the only adult witness against him, and over twenty-five statements from eyewitnesses to the computer classes stating that no abuse occurred – despite prosecution claims that children were raped in “plain view.” The new evidence includes recantations by five of the 14 original children, now adults, whom police stated were sexually abused and appeared before a grand jury, who now attest they were coerced by investigators into alleging sexual abuse that never occurred.

Ross Goldstein recanted his original testimony implicating Friedman,  in which he falsely confessed to numerous charges of sexual abuse to avoid a long prison sentence. He broke his 25-year silence and supplied an affidavit in which he says his earlier testimony had been false and coerced – and that no abuse of children had ever occurred. Goldstein says he felt he had no alternative but to falsely admit guilt and implicate Jesse Friedman.

Goldstein, who was charged with 118 counts of sexual abuse of children, stated that:
“…Every single thing found in my testimony was untrue and said by me at the time to avoid a trial. I never saw Jesse or Arnold Friedman abuse any children, nor did I ever sexually abuse any children.”
“I did not witness Jesse or anyone else commit any crimes in the Friedman home with any computer student. My testimony before the grand jury was a result of tremendous and unrelenting pressure and intimidation by the police and district attorney’s office in which I was eventually coerced to lie about crimes taking place in order to try to save myself and be granted the YO status deal that was being offered to me.”

” In the weeks leading up to my grand jury appearance, I was coached, rehearsed and directed by the prosecutor and Detective William Hatch for hours on end. I was told that it was my role to confirm what the complainants had said when they testified about what had happened to them during the computer classes.

Children, Now Adults, Have Recanted

Scores of witnesses who have spoken to the defense cite highly coercive techniques that were used by the police against computer students in an effort to obtain false allegations against Jesse Friedman. After interviewing 100 children, the police were able to coerce 14 into making false statements. Now, some of those 14 admit that they were not sexually abused, saw no abuse take place, and, in some cases, did not even know what they were saying nor believe their comments were integral to the case.

One of the key complainants against Friedman, Barry Doe, who was responsible for numerous charges of sexual abuse, now states:

“As God is my witness, and on my two children’s lives, I was never raped or sodomized…I remember the cops coming to my house, and the cops being aggressive, and people wanting you to say almost what they wanted to hear. And, and I, I’ll tell you I never said I was sodomized or, you know, I was never raped or, you know, molested. And I can’t honestly tell you what other things I might have said….I never saw a kid get sodomized or molested. I was never sodomized or molested. And if I said it, it was not because it happened. It was because someone else put those words in my mouth.”

The filing includes a recantation by Kenneth Doe who was the original complaining witness whose allegations made up the charges to which Friedman was coerced into pleading guilty. He came forward in 2013, and has provided a statement in which he candidly discusses the disastrous consequences of the techniques that were used to obtain his false testimony:

“I recall clearly that police investigators came to my home repeatedly to question me about what had happened in the computer classes. The police repeatedly told me that they knew something had happened, and they would not leave me alone until I told them. As a result, I guess I just folded so they would leave me alone. I recall being taken somewhere and being videotaped while I repeated these untruthful statements. After the film Capturing the Friedmans came out, I went to see it with my wife, who is a psychotherapist. The description given about the police tactics used to extract statements rang true for me.”

Of the original fourteen complainants in the case, five have already given detailed recantations of their accusations, stating that they were bullied by police into admitting acts that never took place. Seven more complainants have been unable or unwilling to substantiate their charges.

In the words of one student who provided an affidavit:

“During the time that I was present in computer classes, I did not observe Arnold or Jesse Friedman engage in anything even remotely akin to sexual conduct, and I have no reason to believe such events occurred. I recall clearly that police investigators came to my home repeatedly to question me about what had happened in the computer classes. The police repeatedly told me that they knew something had happened, and they would not leave until I told them. As a result, I guess I just folded so they would leave me alone.”

Another so-called victim, Steven Doe, said this about his false testimony:

“I felt that they would be unsatisfied with any response other than my concurring with their view that sex abuse had taken place in the Friedman computer classes…After many sessions in which the police appeared unsatisfied by my negative responses, I became frustrated at the persistent questioning…I remember finally telling the police officers that I had seen Jesse chase after a kid and hit him. I remember saying that not because it was true, but instead because I thought it would get them off my back. This statement was not accurate but at the time – being 8 years old – I felt that saying this would allow me to avoid the unpleasant experience of being questioned repeatedly by the police.”

Now, with Barry Scheck “petitioning” the court to reopen the Friedman case, joined by the original trial judge’s law secretary, Scott Banks, Supreme Court Judge F. Dana Winslow, as well as the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, it is hopeful that Jesse Friedman just may see his day in court.

The fact is that there was never any mass sexual abuse of children in the Friedman home, just a police induced hysteria that, similar to 72 wrongful prosecutions in the years 1984-94, led to a young man spending 13 years in prison and his lifetime now regarded as a level III violent sexual predator. The DA in Nassau County should not oppose a full evidentiary hearing and allow this case to move forward. Let an impartial judge hear from those child “victims,” now adults about their experiences in 1988.

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