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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.

Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice Sued for Defamation By Jesse Friedman

Jesse Friedman, who was wrongfully convicted for child sexual abuse in a mass hysteria case in 1988, chronicled in the Oscar nominated film, Capturing the Friedmans, filed a defamation suit against Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice for knowingly publishing false and defamatory statements in a report summarizing her review of Friedman’s 1988 conviction. The suit names Kathleen Rice, in her official capacity as Nassau DA and individually, as well as her public information officers John Byrne and Shams Tarek.

Rice’s Report and the accompanying press release issued in June 2013, included dozens of false statements. In one example, DA Rice made the fabricated  claim that Jesse Friedman, “wrote, possessed and distributed” shocking pornography involving incest, bestiality, and child rape while in prison, and was punished for it.  The DA provided as proof a printout of a series of shocking pornographic stories. The report was widely distributed to the public and leaked to the tabloid media by her office. The DA’s report also includes a false psychological evaluation by a discredited psychologist.

The DA’s office did not merely publish the defamatory material in the report, but highlighted it in press releases to poison the well against Jesse Friedman.  Within a few days of releasing the report, the DA’s publicity officer John Byrne distributed copies of the alleged stories to the New York media causing sensational headlines.

Rice directed her subordinates to supply the text of these materials to, at least, the New York Times and the New York Post.  In response to receipt of these materials, the New York Post published a series news stories under the headlines:

— Jailbird Perv a Smut Writer  

— Convicted Child Molester Jesse Friedman Wrote Porno Stories During His Time In Prison

— DA: Convicted child molester Jesse Friedman found with porno stories during his time in prison.”

The stories provided details of the pornography and stated that Friedman “was disciplined in July 2000 after prison guards found the stomach-churning smut in his cell.”  That same day, at least fourteen other publications with the headline “Perv was a ‘Horny’ Jailbird Smut Writer,” published variations of the story, each linking to the New York Post. The Associated Press, which reaches news outlets in hundreds of markets across the United States, also ran a story sourcing the material falsely released by DA Kathleen Rice.

A standard Google search of any of the text attributed to Jesse Friedman reveals instantly that it is material available on the Internet, written by and credited to someone else, whose email address appears at the bottom with an invitation to contact her.  As the DA was well aware, Jesse Friedman was incarcerated at a maximum-security prison, and had no access to the Internet for downloading such stories, nor did he have an email address.  Jesse Friedman did not “write,” “pen,” “possess,” nor “distribute” this material.

According to the defamation suit: “This claim arises from acts or omissions of the defendants, and alleges multiple false and defamatory statements that were designed to, and did, harm Friedman in his reputation, enjoyment of life, quality of life, and economic interests.  These acts and omissions include publishing statements that Friedman was punished while in prison for writing and distributing horrific pornography that described acts similar to those for which Friedman was convicted, and statements alleging that Friedman was a psychopath.  These were false and defamatory statements of material fact, and Rice and her agents knew, or it is highly likely that they knew, that these statements were false.  The purpose of such statements, as noted by the Hon. Justice F. Dana Winslow, J.S.C., was to portray Friedman publicly as a “‘bad guy.’”

Friedman’s attorney, Ronald L. Kuby, said, “The DA falsely accused Jesse of having written bizarre pornography celebrating the very kinds of crimes of which he had been accused.  And she timed the false claims so they appeared in the press at a time when they would have the greatest negative impact on Jesse – while all eyes in Long Island and elsewhere were watching for the DA’s three-year-delayed verdict in her so-called “unbiased review” of the Jesse Friedman case.  The fact that they also showed these false materials to the members of a panel charged with overseeing the DA’s investigation, reveals the DA’s desire to undermine any fair re-evaluation of this case.”

When challenged on the statement in a later court hearing, rather than admit the mistake, the DA’s office accused Friedman’s counsel of forging the documents that disproved it. Days later,  the DA’s office  conceded that Friedman did not possess the pornography, could not possibly have penned the pornography, and was never punished for it in prison.

Denying Jesse Friedman’s request to overturn his wrongful conviction was tragically unfortunate, it is quite another to double down and distribute the most horrible lies and innuendos to the public, the New York Times and New York Post. The New York Times refused to publish the lies. The New York Post apparently did not care to check facts and contributed to this travesty…Lonnie Soury