Report may exonerate convicted child rapist

Report may exonerate convicted child rapist
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
By Phil Corso

More than two decades later, the reputation of a convicted Long Island child molester might be wiped clean by the end of this month.

Arnold and Jesse Friedman were arrested in May 1989 on multiple charges of child molestation and have since been at the center of a widely publicized legal battle attempting to clear their names of crimes they say they never committed.

And that might be exactly what they get since the Nassau County district attorney’s office said it will release a report by June 28 that could finally exonerate the subject of the popular documentary “Capturing the Friedmans.”

In 1989, then-19-year-old Jesse Friedman pleaded guilty to 243 charges that involved the abuse of students in an after-school computer class taught by his father Arnold, a retired Bayside High School science teacher, in their Great Neck, L.I., home. An investigation found that child porn was being mailed to the elder Friedman at their home, which prompted police questioning with the 8-to-10-year-olds who were in the computer class.

The younger Friedman served 13 years in prison before being paroled in 2001 and is now a registered sex offender. His father killed himself in prison in 1995.

After he was released from prison, Jesse Friedman appealed his case, citing illegitimate methods of retrieving information from the alleged victims. He said he pleaded guilty to avoid a life sentence, and many of the alleged victims have since come forward to say the crimes were never committed.

“I don’t want to believe the children set out to tell lies about me,” Jesse Friedman said in a 2012 written statement of his case. “It’s difficult to accept that the police intended to send an innocent person to prison. They presupposed the children had been molested and conducted their interviews in a manner they believed was right.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals initially upheld his conviction, but urged further investigation.

Later on, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice assembled a team of experts back in 2010 to formally review the high-profile case to take a closer look at the Friedmans’ claims.

“This investigation involves a unique set of circumstances, so we designed an equally unique process that we believe will enable the fair and efficient evaluation of the case,” Rice said. “Nobody knows whether or not our reinvestigation will upend Jesse Friedman’s guilty plea or corroborate it, but what we do know is that our review will be completely transparent and thorough and we will ensure that the system has done everything it can to determine the truth.”

A 2003 Academy Award-nominated documentary called “Capturing the Friedmans” brought the case into the spotlight.

The attention on the Friedman case also prompted St. Francis College sociology professor Emily Horowitz to author a 42-page look at 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 [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.