Press Releases & Statements

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For Immediate Release

Jesse Friedman Files Motion in Nassau County Court to Open File and Overturn His 1988 Conviction

Prosecution’s chief witness and child “victims” recant, reveal they were coerced into providing false testimony

Barry Scheck, member of DA Kathleen Rice’s “advisory panel” calls for “full evidentiary hearing”

Scheck, Who Oversaw the DA’s Friedman Case Review, Joins the US Court of Appeals, Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Winslow, and Original Judge’s Law Secretary, in Calling for Release of Long-Withheld Case Files

(Mineola, NY, Tuesday, June 24, 2014) Jesse Friedman, whose wrongful conviction was chronicled in the Oscar-nominated film, Capturing the Friedmans, today filed a motion with the Nassau County Court to open the case files, overturn his conviction and dismiss the charges on the grounds of actual innocence, and that unlawfully coerced testimony was presented before the grand jury in 1988. The motion included support from four respected members of the justice system.

Below are only a few of the major pieces of new evidence presented to the Court:

  • A nine-page written recantation by the prosecution’s chief witness, who was the only adult to testify against Friedman in 1988, describing how after being threatened with life in prison, he was coached by the Assistant DA to lie and implicate Jesse Friedman.

  • Recantations from five of the original child “victims” who admit they were coerced into providing false testimony against Friedman about crimes that actually never occurred.

  • Statements of over 25 eyewitnesses to the Friedman computer classes, who state that nothing happened.

  • Documents showing that detectives lied, ignored children’s denials of abuse, bullied children in interviews lasting as long as seven hours at a time, and then composed false statements for the children that implicated Jesse Friedman and others.

Notably, Barry Scheck, the most prominent member of District Attorney Kathleen Rice’s “Friedman Case Advisory Panel” and co-founder of The Innocence Project, submitted a sworn statement asking the Court to undertake a “full evidentiary hearing” and release to Friedman’s lawyers the original case files that have been kept secret by the DA for over 25 years.

Scheck joins a chorus of other respected voices in criminal justice in requesting the disclosure of these files: “I believe it would be desirable for the court and the parties, utilizing whatever procedural mechanisms the court deems suitable, to review materials not available to the Advisory Panel, such as grand jury minutes, the original case file, and the results of the re-investigation to aid in finally resolving, to the extent possible the issue of Jesse Friedman’s guilt or innocence.”

  • In 2010 the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision stating there was a “reasonable likelihood Jesse Friedman was wrongfully convicted” and calling for the case files to be opened and the evidence presented at a new hearing. DA Rice refused.

  • In 2013, N. Scott Banks, the former law secretary for the Judge who convicted Jesse, wrote a letter of support requesting that Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Winslow “grant Mr. Friedman’s application, and direct the District Attorney to disclose this extremely relevant evidence to his attorneys and provide a level of transparency very much needed in this matter.”

  • In 2013, after reviewing the documents and holding multiple hearings on the issue, Nassau County Supreme Court Justice F. Dana Winslow conveyed from the bench his grave concerns about the exculpatory nature of the materials withheld from Friedman, and ordered the disclosure of “every piece of paper” with Friedman’s name on it.

In short, every respected constituent close to the case, who has reviewed even a shred of the evidence DA Rice has withheld – has gone out of their way to endorse Jesse’s request for documents and a hearing in court, except Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice. According to the filing, “The Advisory Panel did not actually conduct a review, nor have access to evidence, except that which the prosecution selected. What little evidence the Advisory Panel

did see was filtered through the very institution that had originally brought the malicious and troubled investigation and then had prevented any relief in the courts for a quarter century. The prosecution arrogated to itself the exclusive power to determine the credibility of witnesses.”

Background

In 1988, in the midst of a national hysteria regarding false allegations of child sexual abuse in schools and day care centers (epitomized by the now-overturned McMartin Preschool case), police alleged that Jesse Friedman, his father Arnold, and three other teenagers had violently abused hundreds of children attending after-school computer classes at the Friedmans' Great Neck home, though over a period of five years, no child or parent had ever complained, and no medical or physical evidence was ever produced.

18 year-old Jesse Friedman, then a freshman studying music and psychology at SUNY Purchase, was charged with 243 counts of child sexual abuse, and forced to plead guilty after being threatened with life in prison by Judge Abigail Boklan who, despite having heard no evidence in the case, was convinced of Jesse Friedman’s guilt. Friedman served 13 years in maximum-security prisons and remains branded as a Level III “violent sexual predator.”

After Friedman fought for decades to clear his name, in 2010 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an extraordinary opinion, concluding that there was a reasonable likelihood Jesse Friedman was wrongfully convicted.”

Part of the mountain of new evidence discovered or brought forward by Friedman’s legal team, is a complete recantation from Ross Goldstein, the prosecution’s only adult witness, and more than twenty-five statements from eyewitnesses to the computer classes stating that no abuse occurred – despite prosecution claims that children were raped in “plain view” of the entire class.

Goldstein, who was charged with 118 counts of sexual abuse of children, now says that:

“…Every single thing found in my testimony was untrue and said by me at the time to avoid a trial. I never saw Jesse or Arnold Friedman abuse any children, nor did I ever sexually abuse any children.”

“I did not witness Jesse or anyone else commit any crimes in the Friedman home with any computer student. My testimony before the grand jury was a result of tremendous and unrelenting pressure and intimidation by the police and district attorney’s office in which I was eventually coerced to lie about crimes taking place in order to try to save myself and be granted the YO status deal that was being offered to me.”

Children, Now Adults, Have Recanted their Testimony

Scores of witnesses who have spoken to the defense cite highly coercive techniques that were used by the police against computer students in an effort to obtain false allegations against Jesse Friedman. After interviewing 100 children, the police were able to coerce 14 into making false statements. Now, some of those 14 admit that they were not sexually abused, saw no abuse take place, and, in some cases, did not even know what they were saying nor believe their comments were integral to the case.

Half of the children who testified against Jesse Friedman have either completely recanted or have materially repudiated their childhood accusations. Statements provided by the complaining child witnesses who now admit breaking down and making false accusations to the grand jury are particularly relevant.

One of the key complainants against Friedman, Barry Doe, who was responsible for numerous charges of sexual abuse, now states:

“As God is my witness, and on my two children’s lives, I was never raped or sodomized…I remember the cops coming to my house, and the cops being aggressive, and people wanting you to say almost what they wanted to hear. And, and I, I’ll tell you I never said I was sodomized or, you know, I was never raped or, you know, molested. And I can’t honestly tell you what other things I might have said….I never saw a kid get sodomized or molested. I was never sodomized or molested. And if I said it, it was not because it happened. It was because someone else put those words in my mouth.”

Kenneth Doe, whose testimony accounted for four of the counts to which Friedman pleaded guilty, admits there was no truth the allegations:

“I recall clearly that police investigators came to my home repeatedly to question me about what had happened in the computer classes. The police repeatedly told me that they knew something had happened, and they would not leave me alone until I told them. As a result, I guess I just folded so they would leave me alone. I recall being taken somewhere and being videotaped while I repeated these untruthful statements. After the film Capturing the Friedmans came out, I went to see it with my wife, who is a psychotherapist. The description given about the police tactics used to extract statements rang true for me.”

Of the original fourteen complainants in the case, five have already given detailed recantations of their accusations, stating that they were bullied by police into admitting acts that never took place. Seven more complainants have been unable or unwilling to substantiate their charges. In the words of one student who provided an affidavit:

“During the time that I was present in computer classes, I did not observe Arnold or Jesse Friedman engage in anything even remotely akin to sexual conduct, and I have no reason to believe such events occurred. I recall clearly that police investigators came to my home repeatedly to question me about what had happened in the computer classes. The police repeatedly told me that they knew something had happened, and they would not leave until I told them. As a result, I guess I just folded so they would leave me alone.”

Another so-called victim, Steven Doe, said this about his false testimony:

“I felt that they would be unsatisfied with any response other than my concurring with their view that sex abuse had taken place in the Friedman computer classes…After many sessions in which the police appeared unsatisfied by my negative responses, I became frustrated at the persistent questioning…I remember finally telling the police officers that I had seen Jesse chase after a kid and hit him. I remember saying that not because it was true, but instead because I thought it would get them off my back. This statement was not accurate but at the time – being 8 years old – I felt that saying this would allow me to avoid the unpleasant experience of being questioned repeatedly by the police.”

Dennis Doe, today an administrator in the tech industry, whose false testimony led to 29 of the charges to which Friedman plead guilty, recalls:

“What I do remember is the detectives putting on me a lot of pressure to speak up. And at some point, I kind of broke down, I started crying. And when I started to tell them things, I was telling myself that it’s not true. Like I was telling myself just say this to them in order to get them off your back.”

Twelve Former Computer Students, At Least One of Whom Was in Every Class Where Abuse Was Claimed, Insist That Abuse Never Took Place

Students who attended computer classes alongside the fourteen alleged victims have stated in written affidavits or recordings that they witnessed no abuse, although the crimes were said to have taken place “in plain view” of all the other students.

Michael Epstein, who sat alongside other complainants in the same classroom in which allegations of sexual abuse occurred, is insistent:

“I never saw anything abusive….Jesse was… completely appropriate in every way.” And lest there be any confusion about whether any abuse could occur without another student noticing: “during these classes, kids were walking around...I can’t imagine that anything untoward was happening on the other side of the room that I didn’t notice.”

Major Chris Blaha (U.S. Army, Major (Ret.) is a decorated veteran of the United States Army, and a former student of the Friedmans. He recalls no sort of abuse, and “can’t even fathom logistically how that would be possible.” His mother, Cookie Blaha, remembers vividly the sort of questioning Chris was subjected to:

“They just went at him and at him about what went on, what was in the bathroom, did people stand behind him, and on and on and on and on. And I just thought it was so – it was so leading and so strong about it, and I thought – at first, Chris would say, ‘Well I guess something happened,’ but he never did because nothing happened. But, I just felt like they were pushing him in that direction very, very hard. And, I was thinking if Chris was not a strong person he could have caved on some of this stuff. I really felt that way. And after the whole thing was over, I told my friends, my husband, and anybody who would listen, that I no longer believed half the stuff that was in the newspaper”

Judge Boklan’s Law Secretary Expresses Doubts About the Fairness of the Friedman Case

Scott Banks, Judge Boklan’s legal secretary during the case and one of the few people to review the minutes of the grand jury testimony, has come forward to express grave concerns with the case. He stated that the case had "always bothered me" in part due to the “lack of time and date specificity in the indictments,” and because "no medical evidence was presented in the grand jury." He continued: "I later learned that there was no medical evidence at all in the case.”

“The grand jury testimony of child witnesses, largely elicited with leading questions by the prosecutor, demanding “yes or no” responses, provided absolutely no detail…I recalled being troubled by the complete lack of medical testimony or medical evidence substantiating the allegations of extreme violent sexual abuse…the prosecution did not disclose witness statements, statements of children who denied being abused by Jesse Friedman. The children were subjected to ‘counseling’ arranged by law enforcement or the District Attorney’s Office during the investigation of Friedman case, and some children may actually have been pressured by police investigators to get statements against Mr. Friedman.”

The Mother of one of the computer Students Kept Records for 25 Years that Reveal Police Misconduct, Witness Coercion, and Evidence Withheld by Prosecutors

Ms. Epstein had for years believed her son had been abused by the Friedmans before he revealed to her that he had lied about instances of violent abuse to end the incessant questioning by police and therapists. Ms. Epstein found statements made by the lead detective in the case revealing that the first 30 alleged victims interviewed had stated they were not sexually abused, a crucial exculpatory fact that was never revealed to Jesse Friedman’s attorney. Those documents were turned over to the DA during the case review, and now have been been presented to the court. According to Mrs. Epstein:

“It is a great relief to me to discover that my son was not abused. I believe there are many other families from Great Neck who could benefit from knowing the truth—that their children too were not molested. Indeed, there were many victims of the Friedman case, but not victims in the way we were led to believe. Not victims of sexual abuse, but victims of manipulation, overzealousness, exaggeration, misinformation, and hysteria. And there were the victims who went to prison. It is beyond disturbing that Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice refused to do the right thing and overturn the wrongful conviction of Jesse Friedman.”

Ron Kuby, Jesse Friedman’s attorney, said, “We have uncovered overwhelming evidence of Jesse Friedman’s innocence, as well as frighteningly unethical behavior by police, prosecutors and the judge in this case. The police coercion of false testimony from children that implicated Jesse Friedman was unconscionable. The 25-year battle to exonerate Jesse Friedman will not end. Today, we ask the New York State Supreme Court to reconsider his wrongful conviction.”

Jesse Friedman said, “For twenty five years, 13 of those behind prison walls, I have maintained my innocence. With the help of an incredible group of people led by filmmakers Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling, the case against me has all but fallen apart.”

Friedman’s battle would likely be futile and anonymous, if not for the case’s rise to prominence with the 2003 release of the Academy Award nominated documentary Capturing the Friedmans, produced by Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling. In the film, detectives and prosecutors working on the case admit to harassing and coercing children in an effort to substantiate charges for which there was zero physical or medical evidence. In addition, children in the class reveal that nothing happened to them, despite the bizarre charge that mass child rape happened in plan view of all the students.

Since the film, a mountain of new evidence has come to light revealing misconduct by police, prosecutors, and the biased judge.

In August, 2013, Nassau Supreme Court Judge, F. Dana Winslow issued an important decision in ordering the complete investigative file in the Friedman case, dating back 26 years, to be turned over to the defense. The Nassau DA appealed the decision to the Appellate Court, Second Department. Oral arguments in the case are expected shortly.

For more information about Jesse Friedman’s wrongful conviction, go to www.freejesse.net .