Media & News

Jesse Friedman

News 12 Doug Geed Blog, NEWS 12 Long Island, May 20, 2012

By Doug Geed

You may remember the case of the Friedmans. A father and son from Great Neck convicted of alleged crimes that made national news when they surfaced in the late 1980′s.

Arnold Friedman, who taught a computer class to young boys in his home, was accused of molesting more than a dozen of his students, aged 8-to-12.

Friedman’s son Jesse — in high school at the time — assisted in those classes and was also charged.

Arnold eventually pleaded guilty. Jesse argued he was innocent, but eventually he too pleaded guilty to various charges, including sodomy. How could anyone possibly plead guilty to a crime so repulsive and reprehensible if they were innocent? That’s the question I asked Jesse today when I met him at an office in Garden City.

Jesse Friedman is now 43 years old. He served 13 years in prison and was released in 2001. More than a decade AFTER he finished serving his sentence, a federal appeals court ruled that there was a “reasonable likelihood” that he was wrongly convicted. The court criticized Nassau police and prosecutors at the time for using what it called “flawed techniques” in questioning the alleged victims. Those techniques included the hypnosis of the students. Friedman supporters say that the students were almost badgered into saying they had been molested by the father and son pair. They say no student had ever complained of being touched inappropriately by either Friedman, many returned year after year to the class without hesitation and that no signs of sexual or physical abuse were ever found on any of them.

The whole case started when a customs agent intercepted a magazine delivery to Arnold Friedman (the father) that include child pornography. While that’s vile and disgusting to any normal human being, Friedman defenders say prosecutors unfairly used that as a springboard to develop their sex molestation case. They say the molestation incidents never occurred.

So that brings me back to my original point — asking Jesse how in the world he could plead guilty to such a crime if he was innocent. He told me that he was a confused 19-year-old kid who felt boxed in. He said the judge in the case — who was also criticized in the appeals court ruling — told him that she would sentence him to prison for the rest of his life if he went to trial and was found guilty by the jury. And since his father had already pleaded guilty, Jesse says it would have been impossible to get a fair trial if a jury had that information. According to Jesse, a guilty plea with an 18-year prison term (he was released after serving 13 years) seemed the only way out.

The case ultimately became a highly acclaimed movie — “Capturing the Friedmans.” And in many ways, it is still playing out like a movie. In what’s seen as a pretty unusual ruling, the appeals court didn’t overturn the conviction, but did call on the Nassau District Attorney’s Office to re-examine the evidence. If prosecutors decide Friedman was innocent, they could then file a motion to have the conviction vacated.

That would do three things for Friedman — clear his name, remove his current status as a sex offender and, presumably, open the door for a whopper of a lawsuit against the county.

Friedman is also skeptical of the D-A’s office — wondering if the same office that worked so hard to put him in jail will be eager to admit it was wrong. It’s been nearly two years since the appellate ruling and still no decision from the office of District Attorney Kathleen Rice.

For its part, Rice’s office will not say anything publicly about the case, except to state that it is reviewing the evidence and will at some point announce a decision.

Either way, it’s a story that has no winners and plenty of losers. A young man who was allegedly wrongfully imprisoned — or victims of a terrible crime being victimized again.

If you’d like to read more, Jesse has his own website that includes the appeals decision.

Jesse Friedma Tip Line – 516-660-4385