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Jesse Friedman Case

Not quietly going away

Although District Attorney Kathleen Rice on July 24 issued a report that upholds the 1988 conviction of Jesse Friedman in a child sexual abuse case, he is continuing the fight to clear his name and his life from the status of a violent sexual predator.

The charges of child abuse leveled against Arnold Friedman and his son, Jesse, who conducted popular computer classes in their Great Neck home rocked this community to its foundations over 25 years ago, but faded from public consciousness until the release of Capturing the Friedmans in 2003. Haunting questions were raised in the documentary about police and judicial conduct, public hysteria and a rush to judgement, and mental health professionals who warned that children in the classes who did not support the accusations might be in denial, repressing the memories.  

In the executive summary to the 155-page report, it states that if anything, the investigation conducted over a three-year period by a team of seven attorneys and one investigator in the DA’s office in conjunction with an advisory panel, “has only increased confidence in the integrity of Jesse Friedman’ guilty plea and adjudication as a sex offender.” It goes on to acknowledge that, “Efforts to recreate what transpired in 1987-88 were hampered by the passage of time, fading memories, reconstructed personal histories, and the natural tendency toward self-preservation.”

However, Jesse Friedman’s attorney, Ronald Kuby challenged the integrity of the report, saying that evidence was “cherry-picked.” Kuby elaborated by saying that “fantastical” testimonies from 3 original complainants were accepted without challenge, while the report discounted the five recantations of complainants as “not credible,” and make little mention of statements from 14 men who attended those same classes and who describe a benign setting far removed from orgiastic games, physical injuries from invasive acts of sodomy and threats to kill their families.

The men who stated that they saw no sign of abuse in their classes, many of whom gave their full names, in a video compiled by filmmaker Andrew Jarecki and shown to a packed room at the Inn of Great Neck last fall, appeared to carry no weight in the DA’s report.

The report states that this argument “presupposes that these students were in the same session, in the same class, on the same day that abuse was alleged.” It becomes clear that at the time, the police either did not compile the basic information of class rosters, when memories were fresh, or their cross-referenced lists were not maintained and/or  not made available to the DA’s team.

One man who had phoned the DA’s office during the re-investigation to make the assertion of no abuse, filed an affidavit, after the DA’s report was released, because the DA’s review team had not followed up to receive his testimony. He states that his mother was also prepared to testify that she had always found the door open at the Friedman home and had witnessed improper police tactics on the occasions they visited the family’s home.

The DA’s report categorically states that they did not find evidence that improper police questioning tainted the investigation. They cite parents who thought that police were “gentle,” asking open-ended questions.

However, the report concedes that the “investigation was not ideal,” noting that methods for interviewing children have evolved to reduce the trauma of being interviewed, streamlining the interview process and videoing the interviews so that children are not repeatedly interviewed for hours as some parents decried at the time and since.

The DA’s team had access to all information on the case and decided which information would be shared with the advisory panel.

The advisory panel consisted of Patrick Harnett, with a police background outside of Nassau County; Susan Herman, a professor at Pace University in the Department of Criminal Justice; Mark Pomerantz, former prosecutor of the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District; and Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project.

This advisory panel, while able to view certain documents unavailable to the public, were not shown grand jury testimony or unredacted witness statements. In-person testimonies of key witnesses at the DA’s office were not in all instances attended by panel members.

During the course of the re-examination of the case, the original complainants received two letters from the DA’s office asking them to come forward, but the first letter made it clear that their participation would be strictly voluntary. The second letter made a more urgent appeal to come forward in light of media reports that some complainants had recanted their original testimony.  

Friedman’s team questions the thoroughness the DA’s investigation because they did not evoke their subpoena powers to bring forth the original complainants.

Letters from three unnamed individuals to Judge Abby Boklan (who is now deceased) affirming their abuse, all expressed outrage that they might be compelled to testify again and have their privacy invaded after the 2003 film was released. These are re-printed in the report.

Three original complainants responded to the DA’s request to come forward and reiterated their charges. All three recount that they are still suffering from their experiences and receive therapy to help them cope.  

The DA’s report was critical of the recantations that were brought to them by Friedman’s team in their independent research saying that their conclusions are “misleading.” Inconsistencies in statements given in Jarecki’s recordings and statements given directly to the DA’s team by complainants were deemed “mischaracterized, misrepresented or unreliable.”  

More than once during the dissection of recantations in the report a quote from a NYS case of People vs. Shilitano is given, “There is no form of proof so unreliable as recanting testimony.”

Ross Goldstein, who also pled guilty to participating in the abuse and served time in prison, broke his silence and came forward to be interviewed by the DA’s review team recently saying that he had cooperated with and was coached by the police because he had believed that otherwise he would spend the rest of his life in jail. An unnamed witness, who came before the DA’s team, stated that Goldstein had written him while in prison saying he had made “tragic mistakes” and done “stupid and terrible things.” The team was not allowed to copy the letters into the report’s appendix. The report concludes this portion stating that “Ross Goldstein’s current narrative is unworthy of belief.”

The report also includes an interview with Arnold Friedman’s brother Howard who now says that his brother confessed to him that he and Jesse had “misbehaved” with children in the class, but does not elaborate on what the misbehaviors were.

And finally, although Jesse Friedman “cooperated extensively” with the re-investigation, sitting for three interviews with the team and one with the panel and waiving confidentiality and providing thousands of pages of  personal letters, the team concluded that “he lied repeatedly, whenever it suited his needs.”

His interview with Geraldo Rivera, in which he asserted that he was a victim of sexual abuse from his father, Arnold, he now freely admits to have been fabricated as a way to protect himself from prison attacks.  

Soon after going to prison, Jesse began his protestations of innocence which did not benefit him in seeking an early parole, as taking responsibility for unlawful actions are viewed as an essential step toward rehabilitation.

 Ron Kuby and ADA Robert Schwartz appeared before Justice Dana Winslow in New York Supreme Court on June 28 to continue their struggle over the release of guarded documents, such as the grand jury minutes from the original child molestation case. Each will be submitting his written arguments to the judge with the ADA’s brief due by July 22 and a response from Kuby due by August 5.

The hearing erupted into another issue when Kuby charged that the DA’s office had released a salacious, pornographic story involving incest and bestiality to certain media outlets, not including the Great Neck Record, claiming that it was written by Friedman while in prison. Kuby waved a document in the air saying that Friedman had been accused of the charge, but had been eventually found “not guilty.” ADA Schwartz countered that he had never seen this particular document, adding that it was “illegible.”  He first suggested that  Kuby might have forged the document, but later said that he “misspoke.”

ADA Schwartz argued that Friedman had written a letter to his uncle saying that he had written a pornographic story because he was “bored.”

Kuby later told the press that a quick Google search using text from the pornographic story had shown it attributed to another person.

Andrew Jarecki, also present at the hearing said, “The DA’s report just reinforces how essential it is to have access to the original documents in the case.”

DA spokesperson John Byrne emailed a response to an inquiry about the courtroom conflict, “Based on Friedman’s admitted authorship of pornographic stories and the fact that this story was found by prison officials in his possession, investigators believe that he wrote the story detailed above.”

In a preview of a future argument, Kuby said to Justice Winslow, “We have known the names of the complainants all along ... and we have never betrayed them by sharing their identities.”