Nassau DA upholds Friedman conviction

AP Photo/HBO via Newsday, George Argerolos
By Phil Corso

After taking a closer look at his case, the Nassau County district attorney’s office said the evidence only reaffirmed the 13 years behind bars as the appropriate sentence for convicted child molester Jesse Friedman.

Friedman, 46, has been waiting three years for the district attorney to investigate claims that he was wrongfully convicted in 1989, but what he got instead, according to District Attorney Kathleen Rice, was another hurdle in his ongoing battle to renew his reputation.

“Instances of wrongful conviction are real and exist in far greater numbers than any of us would like to admit. Wrongful convictions undermine public safety, and they pose the greatest threat there is to the integrity required of our justice system,” Rice said. “But the case against Jesse Friedman is not one of them.”

Friedman, the subject of the popular documentary “Capturing the Friedmans,” and his father Arnold were arrested in May 1989 on multiple charges of child molestation involving the abuse of students in an after-school computer class at their home in Great Neck, L.I.

The younger Friedman, then 19, pleaded guilty to the charges and an investigation found that child porn was also being mailed to his father, a retired Bayside High School science teacher, at their home, prompting police to question the 8- to 10-year-olds in the class.

But he later said he only submitted the guilty plea to avoid a life sentence.

Jesse Friedman spent 13 years in prison before being paroled in 2001 with the label of registered sex offender. His father killed himself in prison in 1995.

Friedman appealed his case after leaving prison, citing flawed methods of gathering evidence from the alleged victims — many of whom have since come forward to say the crimes were never committed. The U.S. Court of Appeals initially upheld his conviction, but urged further investigation.

Rice’s office released a 155-page report Monday along with an independent review team saying the investigation only “increased confidence in the integrity” of Friedman’s guilty plea more than 20 years ago. The panel interviewed three victims and reviewed notes from Friedman’s psychiatrist, who labeled him a “narcissist and psychopath who was capable of committing the crimes with which he was charged.”

After the decision, the convicted sex offender vowed to continue his fight and said he will take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The DA’s insistence on taking this case review on herself, under cover of secrecy identical to the methods used in 1988, has been a frustrating distraction,” Friedman said. “But now, with my incredible wife Elisabeth by my side, we can proceed to court confident that I will soon be fully exonerated.”

The Academy Award-nominated documentary brought the case into the spotlight. That attention also prompted St. Francis College sociology professor Emily Horowitz to author a 42-page analysis of the charges, offering what she called a societal context of the hysteria surrounding the case. The paper included new testimony from witnesses who said they were coerced into making false accusations.

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

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