Media & News

Friedman appeals to reverse sex abuse guilty plea

Newday, October 4, 2007

By Michael Amon

Jesse Friedman's last chance to clear his name of child molestation charges now rests in the hands of a federal judge who heard evidence on his case at a hearing yesterday.

Friedman, 38, is trying to reverse his 1988 guilty plea to sexually abusing children as a teenager with his father in Great Neck, a case that was notorious at the time and gained national attention again in 2003 with the Oscar-nominated documentary, "Capturing the Friedmans."

In court papers, Friedman's attorneys argue that Nassau prosecutors withheld evidence revealed later in the movie - a child who accused Friedman made statements to police after hypnosis.

Magistrate Judge Joanna Seybert heard evidence yesterday on a technical issue - whether Friedman filed his federal appeal in time to beat the statute of limitations. She did not say when she would rule.

Nassau County prosecutors and police have stood by Friedman's arrest and conviction. Joseph Onorato, a prosecutor on the 1988 case, refused to shake Friedman's extended hand yesterday outside the courtroom.

State courts have twice rejected Friedman's appeals in the past three years. If Seybert rejects his case, the plea stands.

With his wife, Elisabeth, 28, standing at his side, Friedman said he was "very optimistic."

"I'm not a child molester and I'm not ever going to rest until I prove to the courts and to the world that I'm not a child molester," said Friedman, who in 2001 was released from prison on parole.

In 1987, Friedman, then 18, and his father, Arnold, then 56, were charged with sodomizing 17 children who attended computer classes at their home. They both pleaded guilty, and the father was sentenced to 10 to 30 years; the son 6 to 18 years. Arnold Friedman committed suicide in 1995. The Friedmans proclaimed their innocence from prison but never appealed their guilty pleas.

At issue in yesterday's hearing was when Jesse Friedman learned of the victims' hypnosis and whether his federal case was filed in the next year, as the law requires.

Assistant District Attorney Judith Sternberg argued that Friedman learned of the hypnosis on Jan. 10, 2003, the night he first saw "Capturing the Friedmans." Because his state appeal was filed 362 days later on Jan. 7, 2004, and rejected on March 10, 2006, Sternberg said Friedman had to file his federal appeal within three days of the rejection. The federal case was filed June 23, 2006.

Friedman's attorney, Ron Kuby of Manhattan, contended that the statute of limitations did not begin until July 2003, when Friedman received access to transcripts of the documentary's interviews with anonymous accusers and confirmed their identity.

If Seybert rules in Friedman's favor, she will then hear evidence on whether the hypnotizing of the victim was proper and should have been revealed to Friedman's attorneys.

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.