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Hearing Ordered Over Whether Hypnosis Tainted L.I. Abuse Case

New York Times, July 24, 2007

By Alan Feuer

A federal judge on Long Island on Monday ordered a hearing to determine if hypnosis may have played a role in persuading children to testify against Jesse Friedman, who served 13 years in prison for sexually abusing children in a 1980s case later made famous by the documentary “Capturing the Friedmans.” For nearly 20 years, Mr. Friedman — 17 when he was charged and now 38 — has sought to exonerate himself, claiming that he pleaded guilty in 1988 to abusing 13 children during after-school computer classes at his family’s home in Great Neck only because he felt a successful defense would have been impossible to mount at the time.

Charged with his father, Arnold (who committed suicide in prison in 1995), Mr. Friedman left prison in 2001 but remains barred from parks and other places children go because of his classification as a violent sexual predator at the highest-risk category, Level 3.

The order by the judge, Joanna Seybert, in Federal District Court in Central Islip, was made in response to a habeas corpus writ Mr. Friedman filed, based on the unusual argument that viewing the 2003 film about the case by Andrew Jarecki had led him to evidence he considered exculpatory. Mr. Friedman’s claims of having found new evidence had already been twice denied — by a state judge in Nassau County and by the New York State Supreme Court’s appellate division — when he filed his federal claim last year.

A central argument of the claim is that Nassau County prosecutors, lacking physical evidence, built their case on false accusations by several children who said in the film that they had admitted being abused only after investigators used “high pressure, manipulative and result-oriented interrogation techniques.” These techniques, Mr. Friedman’s legal papers claimed, included intimidation, threats and hypnosis to create false memories of abuse.

He also contended that investigators unlawfully withheld evidence from the defense, including denials from students, some of whom said in the film that they were pressured into fabricating their abuse claims.

In her ruling, Judge Seybert denied Mr. Friedman’s request to reverse his guilty plea because of the false accusations or hostile interrogation methods, saying that the statute of limitations on such arguments had run its course. She ruled, however, that Mr. Friedman deserved a hearing to determine whether hypnosis — said in the movie to have been used on at least one alleged victim — was a factor.

Peter A. Weinstein, chief of appeals for the Nassau County district attorney’s office, said yesterday that Mr. Friedman’s claim that the child recalled the abuse only because he was hypnotized was not true — and legally irrelevant.

“We’re not the slightest bit concerned,” he said.

Mr. Friedman said he was “stunned” by the “remarkable turn of events.”

“I’ve spent so many years now never thinking I would have an opportunity for a fair day in court,” he said. “It’s almost difficult to process because I had pretty much given up hope. It’s caught us by surprise.”