MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — Capturing the Friedmans, a New York prosecutor says, was the right thing to do.
But convicted child molester Jesse Friedman is vowing to continue his court fight to clear his name, despite the release of a report Monday concluding that police and prosecutors had sufficient evidence to pursue sex-abuse charges in the 1980s against the suburban New York man and his father.
Friedman, a 44-year-old Internet book dealer who now lives in Bridgeport, Conn., for more than a decade has maintained his innocence. His story was portrayed in a 2003 Oscar-nominated documentary called “Capturing the Friedmans.”
But despite a high-profile public relations campaign to win his exoneration, the report issued after a three-year review reinforced prosecutors’ position that they apprehended the right culprits.
“By any impartial analysis, the re-investigation process prompted by Jesse Friedman, his advocates and the 2nd Circuit, has only increased confidence in the integrity of Jesse Friedman’s guilty plea and adjudication as a sex offender,” said the 168-page report released by Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice.
A team of investigators in Rice’s office, supplemented by an advisory committee that included noted defense attorney Barry Scheck, found that there was strong reason to investigate and prosecute both Jesse and Arnold Friedman. The inquiry confirmed the father’s and son’s guilty pleas to abusing young boys taking computer classes in the basement of their Great Neck, Long Island, home.
Both pleaded guilty in 1988 to abusing 13 children.
Friedman’s attorney, Ronald Kuby, called the report a “whitewash.” They said they intend to continue fighting for his exoneration.
“Today is not the worst day of my life,” Friedman said at a news conference, accompanied by his wife, Lisabeth. “I’ve had many, many worse days than today and I’m standing strong and I’ve got as much fight in me — I’ve got more fight in me — than I’ve ever, ever had before. So, game on.”
Kuby criticized Rice for having her own office investigate what prosecutors did:
“Notwithstanding the appointment of a review panel, District Attorney Rice has been the investigator, interpreter of the evidence and sole decision maker. Such power should not rest in the hands of people who have demonstrated they cannot fairly review their own work.”
Rice’s review was undertaken after Friedman appealed his conviction following the release of “Capturing the Friedmans.” A federal appeals court in 2010 refused to overturn the conviction but encouraged Rice — who was not the original prosecutor — to review the case.
Andrew Jarecki, who made the 2003 film, said he wasn’t surprised by the report’s findings. “Prosecutors do not like to undo the work of other prosecutors, especially in their own office,” he said.
The review investigated claims raised in the film and in the appellate court filing that police used flawed interview techniques, employed hypnotism to elicit victims’ memories and took advantage of a moral panic that was sweeping the country in the late 1980s. It also examined whether Friedman had caved to pressure from a county court judge and prosecutors to plead guilty.
Scheck and three other outside advisers said in a letter attached to the report that the review team “had to go behind the excerpts and sound bites that the producers used in the film.” They concluded that “the district attorney made the best judgment under the circumstances.”
The report found that during the first two weeks of the investigation, at least 35 children were interviewed by a team of 12 detectives working in two-person teams. No single detective dominated the investigation and different teams obtained incriminating statements from different victims, the report said.
“Given the compressed timeline, it is unlikely that detectives would have been able to repeatedly visit any one household for hours at a time to induce a child to make false accusations,” the report said.
The review team said it found no credible evidence that hypnosis was used by investigators on any child.
The Friedman case has drawn comparisons to the 1980s California McMartin preschool scandal in which there were allegations of sex abuse, but the investigators said they “were in no way similar.” The report noted in the Friedman case, the victims were more than twice as old as the McMartin preschoolers and many in the Friedman case disclosed abuse quickly.
The review also found that Friedman was not coerced into a guilty plea.
“Primary sources, including letters, audio and videotapes, show Jesse as a maker of his own destiny,” the report said. “Jesse pled guilty because his own calculations showed it to be the optimal strategy in light of the choices available to him, not because someone else forced him to do so.”
The panel also noted that after his plea, Friedman went on “The Geraldo Rivera Show” against his attorney’s advice and re-affirmed his guilt and discussed the abuse he and his father inflicted on the children.
Arnold Friedman pleaded guilty to sodomy, sexual abuse and child endangerment charges and was sentenced to up to 30 years in prison. He committed suicide behind bars in 1995.
Jesse Friedman was released from prison in 2001. Prosecutors noted that prison officials disciplined him in 2000 for writing and distributing “fictional” stories that described violent and disturbing sexual acts, including incest involving a father and his children, sex with a dog and child rape. He was also disciplined for possessing a photograph of two pre-pubescent girls — at least one of whom is naked — torn from the pages of a magazine in violation of the terms of his sex offender counseling program.
The review said parents of some of the victims described their children having emotional problems, including bed wetting, defecating in their clothing, sleeplessness, nightmares, stuttering, a decline in school performance, separation anxiety and an overwhelming sense of fear.
“Jesse remained quiet until a movie brought him back into the limelight he craved,” the report said. “Today his numerous statements are contradicted by many others. His explanations for doing things he did and saying the things he said are tortured and strain credulity.
“In short, there is no statement that Jesse makes today that can be trusted.”