Presentation by Jesse Friedman, May 17, 2012
Good morning. I am Jesse Friedman. I am 43 years old. You have already met my wife Elisabeth. She is a Cosmetologist who also recently finished her degree in psychology. We have been married for five years, and live in Bridgeport, Connecticut. As you know my story is complicated and retelling it can be emotional for me. That is why I have decided to read from a statement I wrote.
I was released from prison 10 years ago. While completing five years on parole I worked as an electrician’s assistant. Because of my background, I was unable to find career track employment, so I began a small online book store. The business has grown and now provides us with a modest living.
This Thanksgiving will mark 25 years since I was arrested for crimes that never occurred. Today is the 8,936 day on which I have lived in the shadow of, and fought against a wrongful arrest.
Although inquiries into injustice and wrongful conviction are at the center of this case, my story is a deeper one. A story about separation, fear, isolation, loneliness, and faith. I was a very young man, accused of horrific crimes that I knew I did not commit and in fact did not happen at all. I pled guilty after every hope of help; from my family and my attorney and my friends was destroyed, and the threat of consecutive life sentences by Judge Boklan made to my lawyer and family left me certain I would spend the rest of my life in prison if I went to trial. My story is about surviving without losing touch with my own sense of humanity in the process. It is about hope, where there is not hope; joy, where there is no joy; it is about shouting sometimes just to hear your own voice.
But let me start at the beginning…
A few days before I was arrested my father asked me and my brothers to meet for dinner at my grandmother’s house. I was in school at SUNY Purchase, it wasn’t far so I took the train home from college. That night he told us about things which, as far I know, he had never told anyone before. He told us about having had sex with his younger brother Howard when they were children. My father told us about how he had been homosexual as a teenager. He also told us about his fetish of looking at child pornography. He told us that the police had been to the house a few weeks earlier with a search warrant looking for child pornography.
As you can imagine this was extremely disturbing.
The fact that he had strange magazines did not come as terribly shocking news that evening. My brothers and I had each independently stumbled upon my father’s hidden pornography collection. I found them when I was nine-years-old and was snooping through my father’s office. My impressions of them at that age was that these were pictures of naked people. At nine years old I didn’t have an adult framework for understanding what I was seeing.
My father’s small collection of perverted magazines were hidden away behind the piano in his private office, and had nothing whatsoever to do with me, or with the computer classes being held in our house. As you know from seeing the film, the stories about the pornography being found on the shelves in the computer classes, or about their having been “foot-high stacks” in plain view all around the house, were fabricated by Detective Galasso to make a connection between my dad’s perversion and the activities in the computer classes. These stories, directly contradicted by the search warrant returns, were also shared by the police with Newsday.
That night at my grandmother’s house my brothers and I all had a great many concerns over these terrible secrets my father was sharing with us, but there were more immediate, dangerous and pressing issues. My father told us he had been fired from his job that morning, and that afternoon only one child had shown up for the scheduled computer class.
A week earlier a small story appeared in Newsday, that read: “A retired city schoolteacher is under investigation by postal inspectors and Nassau County detectives for violations of the child pornography law... The U.S. Attorney’s Office is seeking to indict Friedman on charges of sexual exploitation of children by buying pornography... Police sources said they have not received any complaints about Friedman.”
My name never came up. I had nothing to do with my dad’s problem with child pornography. The idea that the police thought my father had been posing naked children for photos seemed preposterous. (As I am sure you are aware not a single such photograph was ever found.) That my father was being investigated for reproducing child pornography was extremely serious, but beyond the devastation his arrest would cause my family, it would have had nothing to do with me.
I returned to college because there were still classes and exams before the Thanksgiving break. By the following week when my exams were over and I was back in Great Neck, a police patrol car was parked across the street from our house and stayed there day and night.
I was not home the afternoon both my parents were arrested. I was in Manhattan with my high school friends who were all on break from college as well.
Around four o’clock I called home to tell my parents they could expect me for dinner. The person who answered the phone told me my parents had been arrested. I immediately rushed home. When I got there the street was full of police cars and press.
Once inside the house, some detectives began asking me questions. Eventually a detective came in and told me I was under arrest, that I had the right to remain silent. I was taken out in handcuffs and driven to the police station.
It was a very long night. My father and I were placed in a holding cell to wait for the morning arraignment. I was pretty upset, but not as upset as my father. He cried to me the whole night about how he might not make it to see morning because his heart might give out at any moment. There was no advice, or wisdom, or words of comfort from my dad.
I was not all that worried. Based upon the earlier search of the house, and the newspaper article in Newsday, I was under the impression that my father and I had been arrested for "production and distribution of child pornography." I knew we had not been taking naked photos of children. I reasoned there was some colossal mistake somewhere, that my mother would hire a lawyer, that we would be bailed out in the morning, and that we would straighten this whole mess out then.
On the following morning, Thanksgiving Day 1987 my dad and I were brought into a courtroom for an arraignment. I had never been in a courtroom before. A bunch of people began talking and then a man I later learned was Assistant D.A. Joseph Onorato, stood up and began to read the charges: “As to Arnold Friedman, three counts of sodomy, nine counts of sexual abuse, and one count of Use of Child in a Sexual Performance.” It was somewhere between the word “abuse” and the word “Performance” -- somewhere during the eleven words in that sentence -- that I began to have an understanding that my father and I were being charged with child sexual molestation. I was possibly the very last person in Nassau County to learn this information.
It took two weeks for me to be granted bail and almost two months for my father to be released on house arrest. When my father and I were first arraigned it was on a 54 count indictment of Sodomy, Sexual Abuse, and Endangering the Welfare of a Minor. The District Attorney made an offer, recommending a sentence of five to 15 years in prison in exchange for a guilty plea from me. We flatly turned this down.
I’d like to explain briefly how the computer classes operated.
My dad first started offering computer classes to adults and kids in 1984, and he had a neighbor’s son helping him. When that kid left for college I was old enough to help out, and my father offered me the job. My dad paid me $15 per class for my help. If there were three classes a week, that was pretty decent spending money for a high school kid back then. It was a much better job than working as a supermarket stock boy.
There were two main reasons why my father needed someone else there to help with the classes. The first had to do with my mother’s playgroup business. My mother used the same room in the house for her playgroup every morning that my father used in the afternoons for the computer classes. I would have to come home from school, put away all of my mother’s playgroup stuff (like the paint sets, the toys, the small tables and chairs), and then set up the computers. It was a big project in those days to assemble three tables, ten large computers, ten monitors, the printers, and chairs. And then at the end of the day I had to put everything back away again so the room was clear for my mother’s playgroup the following morning.
The other reason had to do with keeping some semblance of order. If you have 10 ten year-olds in a room together it is necessary to have two people helping to supervise. This was not a particularly spacious area. There were all these wires, and cables, and things plugged into extension cords. Plus all the computer equipment and chairs, and all these kids running around, tripping over everything or even throwing things at each other.
Children would attend class once a week for about an hour a half. Each course session would run for ten weeks. This schedule would allow my father to have a fall session, a second session after the Christmas break, and then a third ten week session between April and the end of the school year. There were different classes on different days of the week. I remember it was a lot of work for my father to coordinate a class schedule where enough interested students were all available on the same day of the week and at the same level of instruction. Therefore once a group of kids enrolled together in a beginner class, they would often continue through to the intermediate and advanced level together. Just like kids who were on a soccer team together, the same friends enrolled in classes together and advanced together throughout the school year.
There has been a lot of talk about this case and computer games. Somewhere along the way it became customary to have a bunch of different games running on the computers ready for when the students began arriving for class. I would boot up a bunch of games onto each computer. These computers had no internal hard drives so none of these games were literally "on the computers". It is not like today when a child could conceivably search through file folders on a computer and look at something they weren’t supposed to look at.
We had hundreds of computer disks in the house, with maybe thousands of programs. These disks came from all over the place. People traded computer disks like baseball cards. I had no idea what most of them were. My father allowed students to borrow some games from a lending library of disks.
The police took every computer disk from our house. After searching through what I assume was thousands of programs, they found some of these goofy psuedo-sexually oriented games. These programs were common and commercially distributed. Not anything my father created himself. These games were widely available and easy to copy. So, it isn’t surprising that when the detectives went around Great Neck asking questions they found some students had copies of these same programs. I don’t remember computer students using these games in the classes.
In February 1988 my father and I were indicted a second time. This time on 91 more counts. I was charged with 37 counts, including six charges of Sodomy in the First Degree, each a B-felony, each count carrying a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison.
The police and D.A. continued to stoke the fires of hysteria by talking to the press with outlandish accusations resulting in newspaper headlines like: "100 Kids Linked to Teacher in Sex Attack Case", "Suspect in Child Pornography Called a Damager, Denied Bail", "DA Orders AIDS Test for Dad and Son in Sex-abuse Case for Deadly Virus".
Headlines like these were so pervasive, they obliterated the most important actual facts in the case: During the five years in which these computer classes took place, not one person, adult or child, had ever complained or even mentioned any impropriety of any kind, until after the police and therapists began questioning the children. In fact, children regularly re-enrolled in classes session after session. Not to mention that not a single piece of physical or forensic evidence of abuse was ever produced. And parents who arrived throughout the classes to drop off and pick up their kids never saw anything untoward. Beyond that, how was it possible that some children reported vicious group rapes occurring, while other kids in the same small computer classes reported seeing no such thing?
While I am certain that none of the charges against me were true, it would be wrong for me to say that I know my father never had sexual feelings about kids. He was a pedophile. He had child pornography.
My father’s child pornography had nothing to do with me. My father being a creepy closeted pedophile is a far, far cry from three adults in a room with ten children, openly engaging in violent sexual abuse. That is what I was accused of. Those are the crimes to which I was forced to plead guilty to in front of Judge Boklan, and none of those crimes took place.
There was tremendous pressure from the D.A.’s office and our own personal attorneys for my father and I accept the plea deals. My position was always an emphatic, "No!" I would not willingly go to prison for something I didn’t do, and was ready to fight whatever that fight required. My father was not as strong. He was guilty of sending and receiving child pornography through a sting operation, and was likely going to prison because of that regardless of the outcome of our trial in Nassau County. A month later, my father pled guilty in County Court to forty-two counts of sexually abusing 13 boys who attended the after-school computer classes.
My father’s attorney, Jerry Bernstein, had a dual purpose in advocating for this plea. First, he wanted to see my father serve a good portion of his sentence in a federal prison. By accepting the deal when he did, Bernstein was able to negotiate concurrent sentences for my father. Second, he wanted to arrange for me to face a jury trial without my father – an admitted pedophile -- as a co-defendant. Obviously my lawyer wanted to avoid my father’s child pornography magazines being introduced into evidence, and separate our cases.
It was horrible seeing my father go to prison for 30 years, my family and I tried to be simultaneously hopeful that my chances of not ending up in prison for the rest of my life were finally beginning to shift for the first time since the previous Thanksgiving. After that I hired Peter Panaro to take my case to trial.
In June I was completely surprised when a friend of mine from high school, Ross Goldstein, was arrested and charged with 18 counts of child sexual abuse against children attending my father’s after-school computer classes. That same day I was arrested again, and taken back into custody. The next morning I was arraigned on 37 more charges of sexual abuse.
Ross Goldstein and I both had a keen interest in music. My dream was to become a recording studio engineer, and Ross was a gifted guitarist. Goldstein’s arrest shocked me, but perhaps more accurately confused me. I had no comprehension that there was going to be anything more to my legal battle than the remaining pending charges against me.
Over the following few months Panaro and I attempted to prepare for my trial. At the time, mass hysteria wasn't widely understood, and Panaro advised me that even if nothing happened, we could not expect to convince a jury that such a large number of charges were all false. He told me that we might convince some people on the jury that the charges were exaggerated but there was no way that 12 people would believe that nothing had happened.
My Mother said that my determination to go to trial, was “taunting the system.” Also my mother had been charged with interfering with the search of the house and felt my insistence on a trial would cause the D.A. to press for a harsher resolution to her pending case as well. I continued to resist. I could not believe that I would be convicted of a crime I did not commit.
As the summer of 1988 wore on the police continued their investigation. I learned that around the time the police arrested Ross Goldstein, they had arrested two other friends of his, and seemed to have been playing them off each other, telling each that the others would testify against him if he didn’t choose to cooperate and admit he was part of the Friedman child molestation ring. My information was coming to me via Panaro and the Great Neck gossip mill. I couldn’t trust or make sense of anything I was hearing. I had no idea if I was going to be arrested again, if they were going to arrest more people. It was terrifying. And I couldn’t imagine what Ross Goldstein’s role could be. Ross had visited my house a few times, but he was never an assistant in the computer classes as I had heard the police were suggesting, and surely he would not be able to truthfully say he had witnessed any sexual abuse. Yet I was also told that they were offering him deals for lighter and lighter sentencing in exchange for agreeing to testify against me.
In September of 1988 Panaro told me that the District Attorney had offered Ross a cooperation agreement. In exchange for his grand jury testimony, and testimony against me at trial, the D.A. would agree to a sentence of six months county jail, and Youthful Offender status, guaranteeing him a sealed record. Ross Goldstein had finally accepted the deal and agreed to testify against me.
While I was upset and confused that Ross had agreed to testify against me, I was aware that for eight months, he and his parents had been watching the television and newspaper reports, so for all he knew these crimes had actually occurred. For all he knew, I was guilty of every crime I had been charged with. His testimony as the only so-called adult witness, was the last straw that caused me to plead guilty.
Panaro had already told me and my mother that Judge Boklan told him that if I went to trial and I was convicted, I would get the maximum sentence on each charge, and each would run consecutively. I kept running that math through my head; over and over again. At that time there were “only” 84 pending counts against me, but that would mean a sentence of over 300 years.
A full year after I was first arrested I found myself arrested yet again. Goldstein testified before a Grand Jury, along with additional computer students (even though it had taken them a year since my arrest to “remember” they had been sexually abused). The third indictment containing my name was 302 counts, 198 new charges against me. There were 126 B-felony counts of Sodomy in this indictment, which brought my potential sentence after a jury trial verdict to over 1000 years. Plus, now on top of the possibility of children testifying against me, there was the assurance of another adult witness co-defendant who had confessed. I had managed to remove my father from my trial only to find myself now facing Ross Goldstein testifying against me.
Somewhere in the late days of November, and the early dark days of December 1988, I went to Panaro and told him to see what sort of a plea deal he could get for me. There was no specific day that I made that decision. All I know is that for many, many days, about 365 of them, I was singularly focused on going to trial. Instead of an almost certain conviction at trial, eventually the option of a “short” sentence, became a possibility and I had no choice but to consider.
The sheer number of charges was certainly a big factor. How could I have expected that a jury would deliberate over each and every one of 243 counts against me to determine if each and every one was proven “beyond a reasonable doubt”? Even if the most remarkable of courtroom defenses had been waged; even if the testimony against me was wholly unreliable and doubtable, would it have mattered? This is what went through my mind when I was 19 years old: "243 charges!" If the jury spent three months meticulously deliberating over each and every charge, and returned a verdict of "not guilty" on 241 counts, but "guilty" on the remaining two crimes, that would have still meant a sentence of 50 years.
The lack of any defense witnesses was a big factor. My father’s confession as well as Goldstein’s cooperation left me as the last-standing co-defendant still saying it didn't happen.
The lack of emotional support from the likes of my father, my mother, my attorney, and even friends contributed. The complete abandonment I felt from almost everyone I loved played a big part in breaking me. I had been living in isolation for months. This led to fatalistic thinking. I felt I needed to go along with the system and hope for the best. There is only a certain amount of fight in each of us.
Bits and pieces of information were leaked to me through Panaro to me by law enforcement, making innuendos about arresting my brothers. Back in 1988 Galasso had proven to me that she could arrest anyone she wanted, at any time, and charge them with any crime. I had every reason to believe that since she arrested Goldstein out of the blue, that when she threatened to arrest one or both of my brothers as well that she could, and those threats weighed heavily on my decision to plead guilty.
Panaro demonstrated a grave unwillingness for there to be a trial. Defense attorneys all across the country were trying to make sense of these sex-ring cases. A sad truth is that in the fall of 1988 nobody had yet waged an effective defense against such accusations. There was yet to be any case which a defendant could point to and say, “See, in that case it was shown the charges were all false.”
While I was awaiting my trial date a woman named Kelly Michaels was convicted in New Jersey for the multiple sexual abuse of children. She had been charged with playing the piano in the nude and convicted of sexually abusing children using knives and forks. She was sentenced to 47 years in prison. If a jury convicted her solely upon the questionable testimony of children, and she didn’t have the added burden of a confessed pedophile co-defendant, what chance did I have of expecting a verdict any different? There was no way for me to know that five years later Kelly Michaels would walk out of prison exonerated.
It is worth noting that Eileen Treacy, who testified as an expert witness in the Michaels trial and was referenced directly by the appellate court that reversed the case almost entirely on what the court described as her “scientifically repugnant” testimony, also provided training to members of the Nassau County Police Department Sex Crimes Unit who interviewed children in my case.
From the moment I was arrested I steadfastly proclaimed my innocence to every person I spoke to about the arrests and charges. Everyone who I talked to had questions: Why would all those kids say they were abused if it weren’t true? How could it be that everyone is lying but you? Why would your father plead guilty if he was innocent?
No one knew anything about bad social science or bad questioning techniques, or false confessions. The slogan of the time was "believe the children." People seemed unable to reconcile what they understood of the world with what I was telling them. Child sexual abuse is a terrible crime, and understandably no one wanted to believe that our system couldn’t faithfully adjudicate these kinds of crimes effectively.
Every time I talked to friends, or therapists, or my attorneys, my relatives, neighbors, police officers, even prison guards, and told them I was innocent, the response I got was the same. Over and over again people would tell me, "Your father pled guilty. And surely if he pled guilty he was guilty, and if that was the case then he must have molested you and confused you and forced you to participate."
I heard this repeated to me like a mantra. It seemed the only way people could rationalize my father pleading guilty, and my continued proclamations of complete innocence, was to see me as a damaged, abused, confused, perhaps deranged liar. That is how they looked at me. In the end when I saw no other option I told people what they wanted to hear. The saddest part is that the only compassion I received during that year of torment was when I lied and told people what they wanted to hear.
My father never sexually abused me.
Panaro told me that I had an excellent chance of being released “early” if I were perceived as a victim of my father, and not someone who voluntarily committed these crimes.
Once I decided to take a plea, I was going to have to admit in court to having committed the abuse. I had asked Panaro whether there was some way to avoid an actual plea of guilty. He told me that he had talked to the District Attorney about allowing me to make an “Alford Plea” but they had refused.
Panaro wanted to prepare sympathetic psychological reports for the sentencing record. He also told me that I had to confess to him that I was, in fact, guilty, and that that was why I was choosing to plead guilty. Panaro was not willing to accept my private insistence to him that I was completely innocent. There was no point in telling the forensic psychologists with whom I met, that I was being forced into a coerced plea bargain to prevent spending the rest of my life in prison.
On December 20th 1988 I went to court to plead guilty. For each count called out, I read word for word from the indictments confessing that, “On or about the first day of March, 1986, to on or about the first day of July, 1986, I did contact the victim’s anus with [my] penis”. And then I was taken back to jail.
Over the next six weeks I was held in solitary confinement. That provided only a moderate degree of safety because I was still attacked repeatedly by inmates and staff alike. I had to meet with someone from the court who was preparing a report. I did not tell her that I was coerced into pleading guilty. Instead, I continued telling this story of how my father had sexually abused me and eventually forced me to commit these crimes along with him. I had learned enough about the court system to know that I could not plead guilty and then also say that I didn't do it.
While I waited terrified in my jail cell for sentencing, I knew that Judge Boklan was going to have the newspapers and all the T.V. cameras filming the whole event. The judge was going to ask if I had anything to say before she pronounced sentence. There was nothing I could do to prevent my picture from being in the newspaper the next day. Inmates and corrections officers who would surly confront me the next day, were going to see this news coverage, and I was afraid of the reprisals. I grasped for some control over what was printed.
I already had a somewhat infamous reputation at the county jail. Having been physically attacked by both inmates and staff I thought about what I could say so that when I got back to jail I didn’t end up getting pushed down the stairs. Prisoners do not treat child rapists kindly. I thought that since Ross Goldstein was charged as an adult co-defendant with the same kinds of charges as were leveled against me, and yet somehow the D.A. reasoned he was not a deviant threat to society and they planned to release him from jail after only six months, that maybe somehow my lawyer and I might persuade the judge to make a recommendation for leniency and early parole.
I tried to deflect the forthcoming vilification against me towards my father. I ended up giving a speech I rehearsed. Don’t hurt me. Don’t hate me. Hate my father. It is his fault. I was just a kid myself. He made me do it. A year’s worth of emotion poured out of me. I cried because I stood there telling the judge these lies and I just wanted to go home.
With cameras rolling, Judge Boklan sentenced me to eighteen years in prison, but added an element I hadn’t expected. She made a public, and official, recommendation to the future Board of Parole who would review my case that she considered me a menace to society and that I should serve the full eighteen years of my sentence -- the same amount of time I had been alive up to that point.
After sentencing I was returned to solitary confinement in the county jail to await being sent to upstate prison. If I was lucky it would be Dannemora Correctional Facility. But I couldn’t get the Judge’s final proclamation out of my mind: 18 years. 18 years of daily torture and hell.
When I first arrived in the Nassau County jail the guards intentionally opened my cell even though I was supposed to be segregated in Protective Custody. Inmates regularly threw cups of urine at me. I was beaten by other prisoners. With the Protective Custody classification it was mandatory that I be escorted by staff any time I left my cell, for a visit or a doctor's appointment. Once while waiting for my escort, I noticed a bunch of guards milling about and none of them were wearing their name tags anymore. After the first one punched me they all joined in. My screams through the office doors went unheeded. I think the only reason the guards stopped beating me was because the visiting room had called to say my mother was waiting for me. One of the guards ended up escorting me down to the visiting room where I had to face my mother bruised and beaten, and she had to see the horror of what my life had become.
I don’t remember how The Geraldo Rivera Show became interested in my story. Geraldo wanted to do a show about what happens when the victim becomes the victimizer; addressing the questions of how should society handle these unfortunate situations.
Laying in my cell covered in urine, locked in the dark in solitary confinement, believing that my next prison was going to be even more dangerous, I hoped the show would reach those prisoners and they would be more sympathetic and less likely to hurt me. I guess I still hoped that someone would treat me with some measure of decency.
I worried about what I would one day be able to tell the Parole Board when I had a chance for parole? If I continued to admit to having committed those crimes, then what reason would the Parole Board have for releasing an admitted serial child rapist? One of the few inmates who was nice to me at the jail explained that I could never again say, "I didn’t do it. I'm not a child molester!" That would only result in me being labeled as, "In denial. Unremorseful" and denied parole. The only seemingly viable option was to say, "Yes, I did do those bad things, but there is an explanation."
I know it seems today like going on the Geraldo show is like going on "The Jerry Springer Show" -- accepting an invitation to be publicly humiliated on national television. But back in 1988 Geraldo was just a guy with a television show who I thought was offering me an opportunity to tell a sympathetic story. The show was a nightmare and in retrospect one of the biggest mistakes I ever made.
My future and Elisabeth’s are still severely limited by my status as a Level 3 Violent Sexual Predator. In the past ten years I have been evicted from my residence three times because fellow tenants of the buildings were uncomfortable living near someone they considered a sex-offender. I have been asked to remove myself from four separate religious congregations because members of the congregation didn’t like the idea of having a sex-offender among them. I was denied admission to college. Not because of poor academic standing. "Campus Security" vetoed my applications because they considered my conviction a security threat.
Megan’s Law and the Adam Walsh Act dictate where I am permitted to live, where I am allowed to travel. Sex offenders are often prohibited from living within 2500 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds, or even houses of worship. If you look at a map you will discover that means almost everywhere. In some states and cities I would be banned from any place "where children are known to congregate" that includes libraries, museums, aquariums, beaches, and even public sporting events.
My wife and I dream of having a child, but realize that is impossible if my wrongful conviction stands. We refrain from starting a family because of fear. Fear of social services removing our baby from our home; fear of how our child might be treated by other children whose parents discover our child's father is a convicted sex offender; fear that our child would have to suffer the same social isolation we live with. Meagan’s Law is social exile.
This wrongful conviction has taken my twenty’s and my thirty’s. It’s taken my freedom to live where I want to live, travel where I want to travel; stolen my ability to go to college and have a career; robbed me and my wife of the ability to have children, or to join a church. What quality of life remains after all that I have mentioned is removed?
You might be interested to know that with all that has been taken so much good remains.
In the beginning of this statement I told you that my story is about separation, fear, isolation loneliness and faith. Having had my life destroyed; having lived thorough torture and come out with my soul intact, I learned about the capacity of the human spirit not only to survive but to grow and transform and maintain its magnificence. No matter what this conviction has taken from me and continues to take from me, it will never be able to take so much as a fraction of what it has given me in strength and perseverance and perspective.
If there were a magic potion that traveled me back in time so I could stop this entire series of events from ever occurring, that woman over there would give me pause. I have always believed that our lives are a journey. Mine has not been an easy one, but that woman sitting over there, my wife Elisabeth, she is my reward. It was my journey that brought me to her, and her journey which brought her to me.
By way of context, around the time of my arrest: In Kern County California 46 people were arrested as part of a “satanic sex-abuse molestation ring”. In the city of Wenatchee, in Washington, 43 people were arrested and charged with a total of 29,000 crimes against 60 children. In Edenton, North Carolina 90 children accused 20 adults of 430 counts of sexual abuse. And these are just three of a painfully long list of cases so similar to my own which have since been overturned.
Looking back on the past quarter century, I don't want to believe the children set out to tell lies about me. It’s difficult to accept that the police intended to send an innocent person to prison. They presupposed the children had been molested and conducted their interviews in a manner they believed was right. The therapists involved felt they were helping the children recover lost memories, not creating new false memories. When police officers told parents they already knew their children had been a victim, this rightly created fear, panic and even hysteria. I didn’t come here today to cast blame, but these individuals damaged my life in ways they could never imagine.
By unflinchingly dissecting what went wrong in my case we have an opportunity to ensure progress in dealing with these cases in the future.
I am never going to stop fighting to prove my innocence because the truth is important. What happened to me is unacceptable.
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