Man in 1980s sex abuse case fights for exoneration

AP News
Posted: Jun 24, 2014 3:08 PM

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — A man featured in an Oscar-nominated documentary about his fight to vacate his guilty plea in a notorious 1980s sex abuse case has launched another attempt to clear his name.

Jesse Friedman, 45, and his attorney filed a motion Tuesday in Nassau County Court seeking to overturn his 1988 conviction. He and his father, Arnold Friedman, both pleaded guilty to abusing 13 young boys who had taken computer classes in the basement of their Great Neck, Long Island, home.

Friedman, a 45-year-old Internet book dealer who now lives in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for more than a decade has maintained his innocence. His story was portrayed in the 2003 Oscar-nominated documentary "Capturing the Friedmans." Arnold Friedman died in prison in 1995.

"I never committed a crime against any child ever," Friedman said at a news conference outside the courthouse Tuesday. "I'm looking forward to a fair opportunity to have the evidence heard before a judge. I know that my exoneration is certain. It's just a matter of having to fight against a district attorney that refuses to acknowledge the own evidence in front of her."

A federal appeals court in 2010 refused to overturn Friedman's conviction but encouraged Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice — who was not the original prosecutor — to review the case. Her review released last year said Friedman's conviction was warranted.

"By any impartial analysis, the re-investigation process ... has only increased confidence in the integrity of Jesse Friedman's guilty plea and adjudication as a sex offender," the 168-page report concluded.

Friedman and his supporters have repeatedly criticized the methods used in Rice's review. They maintain that many of the children who made allegations of sexual abuse against the Friedmans had been coerced by police. The defense team also has said numerous students who took computer classes in the Friedman home maintain they had never been victims of abuse or witnessed others being abused.

They also say the trial judge, who has since died, coerced Friedman into pleading guilty under the threat of a severe sentence had he been convicted at trial.

Friedman and his supporters on Tuesday pointed out that noted criminal defense attorney Barry Scheck — who was a member of an advisory panel that reviewed the Rice investigation — has filed an affidavit calling for a court to re-examine the evidence.

The advisory panel oversaw the review team but wasn't privy to all the information Rice's investigators had.

"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 it is possible, the issue of Jesse Friedman's guilt or innocence," Scheck said in the affidavit.

Scheck declined to comment to The Associated Press, saying he would let the affidavit speak for itself.

Rice, who was running in a Democratic primary for Congress on Tuesday, said through a spokesman that her office would respond in court to Friedman's latest finding.

"Independent prosecutors have spent hundreds of hours performing an exhaustive review of this decades-old case and guilty plea, a review that an independent advisory panel has declared to be as thorough and fair as possible," said spokesman Shams Tarek.

Last week, Friedman filed a lawsuit against Rice and two of her assistants, claiming that he was defamed in the report released last year. He said Rice concocted "outrageous" allegations about him.

A Rice spokesman said the lawsuit was meritless.