Former Great Neck resident Jesse Friedman, who served 13 years in prison after pleading guilty to molesting children at his father’s computer school in the 1980s, has enlisted a former NYPD detective to help in what his spokesman called “an innocence appeal.”
With the installation of a “confidential information hot line,” Friedman’s spokesman Lonnie Soury said on Monday that his client is looking for anyone with information on his case to come forward to assist in a continuing effort to prove his innocence.
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice’s office opened an investigation of Friedman’s case in August of 2010 when the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals denied a bid to withdraw his original guilty plea, despite criticizing the investigation by police and a Nassau County judge’s handling of the 1988 case.
“They found a reasonable likelihood that Jesse Friedman was wrongly convicted,” Soury said. “It’s almost unheard of that the court would make such a decision.”
Then 18 years old, Friedman was convicted in 1988 of multiple counts of sexual assault.
Friedman served 13 years of a six-to-18 year prison sentence on charges that he and his father Arnold Friedman, who committed suicide in jail in 1995, sexually assaulted multiple children in the basement of the family home where they held computer classes.
“There was no evidence linking Jesse to any crimes,” Soury said. “There was no evidence linking anybody to any crimes. It’s a horror story.”
Although Friedman was paroled in 2001, Soury said his client still lives in “virtual confinement” due to his status as a Level III sex offender.
The court case and Friedman’s release from prison were portrayed in the 2003 Academy Award-nominated documentary called, “Capturing the Friedmans.”
“Even though I was released from prison 10 years ago, I remain subject to the harshest treatment under Megan’s law,” Friedman said in a statement. “After 25 years, I want nothing more than to have my wrongful conviction vacated so my wife Elisabeth and I can begin to have a family and try to live a normal life.”
Nassau County District Attorney’s Office Deputy Communications Director Chris Munzing declined comment on this story.
Along with its investigation, Rice’s office created a panel of experts to further to assist in the review of Friedman’s case. The panel includes Innocence project founder Barry Scheck, appellate attorney Mark Pomerantz, victims’ rights advocate Susan Herman and former NYPD transportation bureau Chief Patrick Harnett.
“Essentially the case has sat,” Soury said. “We don’t believe they’ve been transparent.”
Friedman has assembled a legal team, which includes civil rights attorney Rob Kuby, who sent a brief to the district attorney’s office and its panel this week.
The news release said the brief called for “transparency” and a “non-adversarial process” in reviewing Friedman’s case.
“We are encouraged that Nassau County is reconsidering this terrible injustice,” Kuby said in the release. “Jesse has already served his time and a decade after his release he is still fighting to clear his name so he and his wife may start a family.”
When Friedman was originally convicted in 1988, Soury said a “hysteria about sexual abuse” led to his client’s prison sentence.
“(Friedman’s) case must not be examined behind closed doors as it was in 1988, subject to community pressure and hysteria,” Kuby said of the DA’s current investigation. “We would like the DA to invite us into an open and transparent dialogue, so we may all share what we have learned about the case in a non-adversarial way.”
In addition to the brief, Friedman’s legal team has recently been joined by Jay Salpeter, a former NYPD detective.
Salpeter created the information hot line for residents to provide information on the case and the “sex abuse hysteria that engulfed Great Neck, Long Island nearly 25 years ago,” the release said.
“We believe that police and prosecutors, with the help of a group of psychologists, coerced a handful of students in the computer class to make false statements about Jesse’s actions,” Salpeter said. “We have uncovered numerous people who have provided valuable information and we believe there are more who can provide important input and help Jesse.”
Before joining Friedman’s case, Salpeter was instrumental in uncovering new evidence in the “West Memphis 3” case, which resulted in Damien Echols being taken off Death Row, the news release said.
Salpeter was also involved in investigating the case of Long Island resident Martin Tankleff, who after serving 18 years in prison for the murder of his parents, was released from prison in 2008, the news release said.
“We hope (residents) will call the information hot line so Jesse can be vindicated and begin to have a normal life,” Salpeter said.
Anyone with information on the case can contact the hot line at 516-660-4385.
“Before cases like the McMartin Preschool case were exposed as shams, the public became swept up in many of these mass-hysteria sex crime cases like the one that led to my wrongful conviction,” Friedman said in the statement. “Today, we know the techniques used by the police lead to false memories and false accusations.”