Tag Archives: Innocence Project

Jesse Friedman to get new judge to preside in innocence hearing

Nassau County Court Judge Teresa Corrigan, who was presiding over the actual innocence hearing of Jesse Friedman, has recused herself as judge and asked to have the case reassigned.

“Mr. Friedman deserves his day in court. The public deserves the right to believe that the case is being decided without concerns of impartiality from the court. There is now a potential appearance that the court’s impartiality could be questioned. As such, I hereby recuse myself from this matter. This case is being returned to the Clerk’s office for re-assignment.” See decision http://bit.ly/1K8jxGe .

 Friedman’s team which includes filmmaker Andrew Jarecki, attorney Ron Kuby, and others, believe Judge Corrigan realized that the appearance of impartiality was too overwhelming to continue in  her role…She was tied tightly former Nassau DA Kathleen Rice, as well as current acting DA Madeline Singas,  and even supervised, when she herself worked in the DA’s office, the original Friedman prosecutor, Joe Onorato.  We are now hopeful that the new judge assigned to Jesse Friedman’s case will review the evidence of his innocence on its merits, free of the biases displayed by the District Attorney’s office in their recent court filings, as well as the three-year conviction review process that was found to be seriously flawed.

The decision by Judge Corrigan comes after Friedman filed a second motion asking the judge to remove herself from the case in March 2015. Corrigan had denied the first motion in October 2014, but acceded to the second request, which included an affidavit by Professor Bruce Green, one of the country’s leading experts on judicial ethics and Director of the Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham University School of Law. He had cited the close association of the judge with four key players in Friedman case, all of whom worked with her while she was at the Nassau District Attorney’s office prior to her election to the bench.See Green Affirmation, http://bit.ly/1EvA715.

Background

In 1988, in the midst of a national hysteria regarding false allegations of child sexual abuse in schools and day care centers (epitomized by the now-overturned McMartin Preschool case), police alleged that Jesse Friedman, his father Arnold, and three other teenagers had violently abused hundreds of children attending after-school computer classes at the Friedmans’ Great Neck home, though over a period of five years, no child or parent had ever complained, and no medical or physical evidence was ever produced.

Eighteen year-old Jesse Friedman, then a freshman studying music and psychology at SUNY Purchase, was charged with 243 counts of child sexual abuse, and forced to plead guilty after being threatened with life in prison by Judge Abigail Boklan who, despite having heard 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 “violent sexual predator.”

After Friedman fought for decades to clear his name, 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.”

Part of the mountain of new evidence discovered or brought forward by Friedman’s legal team, is a complete recantation from Ross Goldstein, the prosecution’s only adult witness, and more than thirty eyewitnesses to the computer classes stating that no abuse occurred – despite prosecution claims that children were raped in “plain view” of the entire class.Goldstein, who was charged with 118 counts of sexual abuse of children, now says 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 [Youthful Offender] status deal that was being offered to me.”

After the DA’s three-year review of the case by DA Rice’s office, said to have been supervised by an outside Advisory Panel, Barry Scheck, the most prominent member of the Panel and co-founder of the Innocence Project, broke ranks to reveal that the panel members had not been shown the vast majority of evidence in the case and had not even interviewed most witnesses, but instead had been asked to rely only on the DA’s distillations of that material. Scheck submitted an affidavit with Judge Corrigan asking the 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 27 years.

In Scheck’s words: “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.”

Scheck joined a chorus of other respected voices in criminal justice in requesting the disclosure of these files:

  • In 2010, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision stating there was a “reasonable likelihood Jesse Friedman was wrongfully convicted” and calling for the case files to be opened and the evidence presented at a new hearing. DA Rice refused.
  • In 2013, N. Scott Banks, the former law secretary for the Judge who convicted Jesse, wrote a letter of support requesting that Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Winslow “grant Mr. Friedman’s application, and direct the District Attorney to disclose this extremely relevant evidence to his attorneys and provide a level of transparency very much needed in this matter.”
  • In 2013, after reviewing the documents and holding multiple hearings on the issue, Nassau County Supreme Court Justice F. Dana Winslow conveyed from the bench his grave concerns about the exculpatory nature of the materials withheld from Friedman, and ordered the disclosure of “every piece of paper” with Friedman’s name on it. DA Rice appealed the decision to the Appellate Court, Second Department. Oral arguments were held in the case February 10, 2015. A decision in the case is expected shortly.

see  www.freejesse.net.

 

 

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

 

Victims of Brooklyn Detective Scarcella Call For Justice

Victims of infamous Brooklyn detective Louis Scarcella, including some men who have been recently released after decades in prison, joined families of the wrongfully convicted at a news conference on the steps of New York City Hall to ask new Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson to hasten his review of the Scarcella related cases and other questionable convictions by former Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes. Derrick Hamilton (21 years), Sundhe Moses (18 years), Kevin Smith  (27 years), all recently released, claim they were wrongfully convicted based upon false evidence obtained by Detective Louis Scarcella and used by prosecutors.

Derrick Hamilton was sentenced to life in prison after Detective Scarcella coerced an eyewitness to change her testimony to implicate him in a murder. Although the woman recanted, Brooklyn prosecutors hid the fact. Paroled, Hamilton recently won a landmark appellate ruling reopening his case based upon an actual innocence claim.  Hamilton said, “There is tremendous frustration among those wrongfully convicted. While some of us have been released, we are still on parole and continue to suffer as we begin to rebuild our lives. Prosecutorial and police misconduct is not only a serious problem in Brooklyn, it happen in every district attorneys office in the city.”

 The Need for an Independent Commission to Review Wrongful Convictions

Many believe only a truly  independent conviction review process can be effective as there is little faith that New York City’s district attorneys can effectively review their own cases.  Recent “conviction reviews” that were deeply flawed and resulted in maintaining the wrongful convictions include Manhattan DA Cy Vance’s 18-month review of Jon-Adrian Velazquez’s case and Nassau DA Kathleen Rice’s three year review of Jesse Friedman’s case, made famous by the film, Capturing the Friedmans. In both of these cases, the conviction reviews were conducted by prosecutors with little input from defense attorneys and no transparency.  “When the Federal Appeals Court for the Second Circuit stated that I was ‘likely wrongfully convicted’ and asked DA Rice to conduct a reinvestigation I was thrilled. I turned over tremendous evidence of my innocence including victim recantations, all my thousands of case files and gave the DA approval to contact anyone involved in my case. To my and my attorneys shock, the DA spent three years trying every which way to undermine my innocence, and she succeeded,” Friedman said.

Experts recommend the Brooklyn DA establish a Conviction Review process modeled on one currently in place in the Dallas District Attorney’s office by DA Craig Watkins. The Dallas CIU has helped to overturn approximately 44 wrongful convictions.“The most important aspect of these relationships is information sharing: the petitioner seeking relief presents evidence of innocence or due process claims to the Dallas CIU and the CIU, in turn, gives complete access to the prosecution file. There are open, cooperative discussions as to which witnesses will be interviewed and by whom. The results of witness interviews and forensic testing are shared.” 

In an article by investigative journalist Hella Winston, defense attorney Ron Kuby who has worked with CIU in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Nassau County, said, “The Dallas model is far superior. Number one, [in Dallas there is] complete transparency. Both sides share all of their information. We get everything in their file, they get everything in our file, except certain privileged communications. And, second, the investigation is undertaken in a collaborative way. We sit down together and we discuss witnesses. And we discuss…what would be the best side to approach this witness. Should we do it together? Should the defense pursue this witness because frequently the defense is able to win trust where the police don’t, or should the police pursue this particular witness?”

NYPD Should Record All Interrogations and Conduct “Double Blind”  Live Police Lineups

Families are asking NYPD to institute universally recognized methods of preventing wrongful convictions,  by recording all custodial interrogations of suspects and witnesses to prevent false confessions and false testimony. They also want  “double blind” procedures in live police lineups and photo arrays, to prevent witness misidentification. These practices have been endorsed by the International Association of Police Chiefs. Both New Jersey and Connecticut routinely video record interrogations and use “double blind” live witness identification procedures successfully. Marty Tankleff, who recently settled with the New York State Attorney General in his wrongful conviction, said, “There is no reason that police departments across the city and state should not immediately begin recording all interrogations and witness interviews. It could go a long way to curtailing false confessions and false testimony, and reduce the incidence of wrongful convictions like mine. It is universally recognized as a benefit to both police and defendants alike.”

Louis Scarcella is a symptom of a broken system that continues today. There is no Scarcella without a Brooklyn District Attorney who was complicit in encouraging and condoning his actions, and a judiciary that allowed tainted evidence before jury after jury after jury. This happens not only in Brooklyn, but in every borough in this city. It has to stop, and it will only stop when those responsible are held accountable.

There are changes that can be made today that can help prevent wrongful convictions. If custodial interrogations were recorded it is likely that Anthony Yarborough’s false confession would not have happened, nor Sundhe Moses or Marty Tankleff, nor dozens more in New York City and hundreds from around the country.