Shabaka Shakur released after 27 years of wrongful imprisonment

shabaka

My husband’s attorney, Ron Kuby, recently had a remarkable victory: winning the release of another wrongfully convicted client. It was finally established in court that disgraced former Brooklyn Detective Louis Scarcella had fabricated a false statements by a single eyewitness, resulting in Shabaka Shakur spending 27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.  Judge Green determined that the convicting evidence was sufficiently unreliable to order a new trial, and thankfully the District Attorney declined to retry the case, resulting in Shabaka’s release.

Unbelievably, there is no financial assistance available for the wrongfully convicted from the government or any agency or organization upon release from prison.  Shabaka got a bus ticket from the prison system, nothing more, and he needs help just getting by in his new life.

I am in a unique position to appreciate the gravity of this miscarriage of justice.  While my husband has been fighting his wrongful conviction for 27 years, Shabaka Shakur has been in prison for all of those 27 years.  Not only did Shabaka enter prison before cell phones or the Internet, but the USSR was still on our maps!

Shabaka’s attorneys have established a gofundme page to assist Shabaka in obtaining basic necessities such as food. Please consider a contribution, no matter how small, towards helping someone who has suffered so much.  It is a miracle that dedicated attorneys have made the commitment and contributed their sweat and time towards obtaining some justice for Shabaka.  Now we’re asking you to play a part in helping Shabaka get the sustenance he needs in his new life. Please click here and donate . If you cannot contribute financially, then please help to spread the word by sharing this link http://www.gofundme.com/supportshabaka on social media. Thanks so much.

 

 

Guest Post: Anonymous

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Hi everyone, We’ve been featuring posts from our supporters here and some of you may even recognize some of the names. We get emails and letters of support often and they mean so much to us, but sometimes because of the nature of the case (Jesse is still designated as a Level 3 violent sexual predator) our supporters must remain anonymous. This is a post by one such supporter. Thanks for reading and I’ll post again soon.   -Lisabeth

There are certain things that happen in America that seem so grossly unjust you almost can’t believe they’re still happening in modern times, but in the end, you remember that people have good hearts and open minds and will hopefully fix their mistakes and get to the truth. I understand that there was a heated climate at the time Jesse Friedman was arrested, and many people were given a false impression and can’t be blamed for that. But it’s three decades later and it’s not in anyone’s best interest to leave lies intact in order to justify well-intentioned but erroneous actions from another time. A person only gets one life to live and one chance to have a family and grow up.

Jesse Friedman  was practically a kid in 1989 and has lived for decades under the shadow of a false impression — but it’s not just about Jesse Friedman and his loved ones. It doesn’t serve any of those involved, or for that matter, anyone in this country, to let untruths prevail for the rest of time. Why? Because any of us may  someday suffer unjustly due to a false charge or rumor, and we’d all like to be confident that in America, truth will prevail.

 I think everyone on all sides of this case wants to protect the people who were affected by it, and there’s no better way than to bravely correct the record for posterity and let Jesse Friedman move on, along with everyone else involved.

I was flabbergasted to read all the evidence that showed that not only was Jesse Friedman not guilty of the charges against him, but couldn’t have even logically committed the crimes. It  takes a hero to acknowledges an error or wrong, but each person who does so can free his or her conscience and free the truth.

— C. L., newspaper editor and writer

 

Guest Blog: Bob Chatelle

Hello Friends, today we have a guest blog from Bob Chatelle. Bob is one the founders of the NCRJ and  a strong supporter of our cause. Thanks for reading and I’ll post again soon. -Lisabeth

Jesse Friedman emailed me soon after his release on parole in late 2001. We had never met or corresponded, but I knew something about his case from our mutual friend, journalist Debbie Nathan. But Jesse hadn’t known I knew Debbie — he had tracked me down because of my involvement in another case, Bernard Baran of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. (Baran – who tragically died last September – was released in 2006 and exonerated in 2009.)

My partner, Jim D’Entremont, and I met Jesse in New York a few months later. He was struggling with his new found quasi-freedom, a hostile parole system, and a malfunctioning ankle bracelet. (Baran had similar problems with the bracelet he was forced to wear for three years.) Jesse struck us as intelligent, honest and brave – a man determined to do whatever was needed to clear his name.

Since that first meeting, we have gotten together with Jesse and his wife Lisa a number of times. We went down for their engagement party. We had a great time showing them around Boston. They became friends.

I support Jesse because he is a friend. But that is not the most important reason. Many come to this cause because our hearts have gone out to specific individuals and their families. But we soon learn that the problem is much larger and more important than individual misfortune. The problem is systemic: our criminal-justice system doesn’t work and too few want to fix it.

Politically ambitious prosecutors flout their Constitutional duty to seek justice in order to advance their careers. (This strategy, alas, has been too often successful.) They are cheered on by those in the media who eschew the hard work of investigation, propagate misinformation and junk science, and convict the accused before trial. And, worst of all, an uncritical public joins the rush to judgment.

The stubborn behavior of the District Attorney’s office in Jesse’s case outrages me and smacks of obstruction of justice. Their so called “independent report” – unfortunately endorsed by the Innocence Project’s Barry Scheck – was a self-serving whitewash of the prosecution. (Scheck later back tracked his endorsement, but much damage had been done.) Their refusal to turn over documents is indefensible. Their alleged concern about privacy is baseless. The identity of the accusers is already well known to Jesse and his lawyers. Accuser names would be redacted from the documents. And many of these accusers have already recanted their accusations, which were extracted under duress by police and therapists.

As I know from personal experience, the battle for justice is long and difficult. The state has enormous power; citizens, far too little. But I also know from personal experience, that the only mistake you can make is giving up. Jesse and Lisa won’t give up. Nor will I or their many other supporters.

Because of our concerns about miscarriages of justice in cases of alleged crimes against children, Debbie Nathan, myself, and others founded the National Center for Reason and Justice in 2002. I am not an NCRJ spokesperson – in this blog I speak only for myself. But I urge you to read what the NCRJ has had to say about this case. Check out our Jesse Friedman archive. I especially recommend the white paper on the case and our response to the “independent report.” I also have a personal blog, Friends of Justice.

Supporting Jesse: The Path We Took, and Why by Susan Fallon McCann

Hey guys, Today we’re going to hear from a long-time supporter of Jesse’s effort for exoneration, Susan Fallon McCann. I asked her to talk a bit about how she heard about the case and what about it moved her to become such a loyal supporter.           -Lisabeth

 Walking away from Capturing the Friedmans in 2003, my husband David and I discussed the disturbing similarities to the McMartin preschool case: children subjected to coercive questioning about outlandish charges of sexual abuse, police and investigators who clearly believed those charged were guilty until proven innocent. Although the case was eventually overturned, families were ruined and the seeds of hysteria over mass child sexual abuse were sown in the American psyche. Many similar cases followed in the 1980s, including Jesse’s.

 We also knew it was important to look beyond the documentary. We researched and discussed all we could find on Jesse’s case, and transitioned over time from a belief that he was not guilty to a certainty that he was innocent. In 2010, the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals finally recommended a re-examination of Jesse’s case based on “reasonable likelihood that he was wrongfully convicted” and that his guilty plea was “coerced”. While we were concerned that the reinvestigation was handed over to the same DA’s office that prosecuted him, we held to the hope that the mass of evidence – the recantations of supposed victims, the clearly improper investigatory tactics, the lack of disclosure by the prosecution, new statements by eyewitnesses who swore nothing had happened – would surely lead to Jesse’s exoneration. When the report findings were released nearly three years later, I emailed Jesse through his website with the subject title: “My husband and I are devastated.” Thus began a communication that has deepened our resolve to support this innocent man until justice is served.

Supporting Jesse goes beyond our commitment to him as an individual. If this wrongful conviction is allowed to stand, it has impact on the way our legal system functions and how future cases may be mishandled.

 Ambition Corrupts: It’s not hard to see why the original Nassau County DA pursued Jesse so relentlessly, and why the same DA’s office years later continued to do so. Even the hint of child sexual abuse touches a nerve in the general public unlike any other crime. These cases are instantly high profile, and provide political capital to ambitious police officials, investigators, litigators – even judges. English author Charles Caleb Colton once said, “Corruption is like a ball of snow, once it’s set a rolling it must increase.” Judge Abigail Boklan, who sentenced Jesse in 1989, stated numerous times to various audiences that she “had no hesitation” at any time that he was guilty – even though she had heard no evidence to that effect in a court of law. Years later, DA Kathleen Rice took nearly three years to complete the report on Jesse’s conviction. Said report is rife with outright lies and slander – all designed to court public approval of Ms. Rice and to refuel public outrage toward Jesse. After all, Kathleen Rice was planning a 2014 run for Congress. She is now a U.S. Representative for New York’s 4th congressional district.

Accountability Matters: We live in a system of checks and balances, yet injustice occurs. That’s why it is critical always to question authority, to examine all aspects of a case, and to hold our officials accountable for their mistakes. Without public pressure as well as legal diligence, those in positions of power who value opportunism and ambition over truth will continue to offend.

Public Support Matters: David and I speak openly and often to those around us about Jesse’s case. We are vocal, not just because we believe in Jesse’s innocence, but because the nature of the supposed crime causes so many to shy away. We have great respect for Arline Epstein, whose son Michael admitted in 2012 that he had never been molested, but had been coerced by bullying investigators into a disclosure of abuse. Arline has been an outspoken advocate of Jesse’s ever since.

Jesse has a dedicated legal team, a wife devoted to him and to his exoneration, and a mass of new evidence proving his innocence. The DAs office has at last agreed to an evidentiary hearing based upon actual innocence claims. As supporters, we need to speak up, hold these public officials accountable, and ensure that Jesse finally has his just day in court. And when he does, David and I plan to be there, to publicly show our support and admiration for Jesse and for Lisabeth.

 A final observation. During my father’s last days, I said, “What will I do without you? You have always been my rock.” Ah yes,” he responded, “but Gibraltar is crumbling.” I realized then that his consistent support of me was not only a stabilizing influence in my life, but also gave him a great sense of purpose over many years.

Backing Jesse in his fight for exoneration is a privilege. It adds to our sense of purpose. Watching Jesse, Lisabeth, Ron Kuby, Andrew Jarecki and so many others fight tirelessly over many years to achieve justice is inspirational. There is so much to feel positive about. We invite you to join the fight, and are happy to talk with anyone who would like to work with us on Jesse’s behalf, or simply to know more about our personal commitment.

Susan Fallon McCann lives in Arizona with her husband David and seven companion animals. Susan is principal of a business and communications consultancy and David leads communications for a large Southwestern law firm. Both are active in organizations concerned with social justice and civil rights.

 

 

Question from a reader

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Hey guys, we got a good question in the comments section of a previous post and I thought I would answer it here. It’s about Arnold’s brother Howard (Jesse’s uncle), and the film that’s being referred to is of course “Capturing the Friedmans.” It reads:

I read somewhere that Arnold’s brother Howard, who is in the film and says that he doesn’t believe the the crimes occurred, has elsewhere and subsequently said that Arnold confessed to him that he and Jesse did do something to the kids. Has Howard really said this, and if so, what do you make of it?

There are a few reasons why Howard’s memory of Arthur’s “late night confession” is contentious.

Howard’s recollection is quoted no less than ten times in the report that was issued by DA Rice in 2013, so you may have read about it in a story about the report, or in some of the news coverage of the case in general from around that same time. What was NOT included in the Rice Report was that there have been other numerous instances where Howard stated that he unequivocally believed in Arnold and Jesse’s innocence.  Howard wrote to the parole board saying “My nephew is innocent,” and there are hundreds of letters between Howard and Jesse in which Howard is unwavering in his support of his nephew.

Specifically, around the same time as Arnold’s so called “confession,” Howard wrote a letter to Arnold in prison where he quotes his brother’s denial of wrongdoing in the computer classes. While Howard says that Arnold did admit his attraction for young boys, he categorically denied ever having “hurt” anyone in the classes, saying, “ … I never molested the kids.”  And more importantly, there is absolutely no mention of Jesse in this version of the confession. Though this letter is a much more concrete piece of evidence, DA Rice has chosen to ignore it accepting as truth the memory of a late night conversation instead.

Second, Jesse’s uncle Howard, by his own admission, deals with some serious health issues, issues which are certainly capable of affecting his memory and cognitive functions. Finally, remember that Howard lived in California where he has lived for well over 20 years, so he had virtually no experience of the computer classes in his brother’s home.

Howard’s recollection of the “late night confession,”  whether the result of a medical condition or simply a faulty memory, contradicts what he’s said all along about his belief in Arnold and Jesse’s innocence. It’s not hard to understand why Kathleen Rice would have chosen to tout the version that supports her biased agenda against Jesse, but the DA should not be able to pick and choose statements from an unreliable source.

Thanks for the great question, I’m happy to have a chance to get as much information about the case out there as I can, and I’ll write again soon.

 

DA Rice will not oppose our hearing

Some people have asked me to explain what it means that the Nassau County DA’s office has agreed not to oppose our request for a hearing based on Jesse’s claim of actual innocence.  Based on this, it is almost certain we’ll be granted a hearing by the judge in the case, and we’ll be able to present all the new evidence we’ve collected over the past 11 years.

But even if we get our hearing, the fight is far from over.  Let me explain what this means to our case…

First, let’s talk about what “actual innocence” means.  In the simplest of terms, rather than our having to argue that Jesse’s conviction should be overturned based on some legal technicality or error, we can finally argue that the conviction needs to be overturned because Jesse is “actually, factually innocent.”  It seems like common sense that someone wrongfully convicted should be able to argue their conviction should be overturned if they can prove they are “actually innocent” of the charges against them.  But that has only been the case since January of this year, when a landmark case established a defendant’s right in New York State to make this kind of claim.

In Jesse’s case, we can prove conclusively not only that he did not commit any crimes, but the crimes themselves actually never occurred. Remember one of the strangest things about Jesse’s case is that no claim was ever made by any of the alleged victims until the police started bullying witnesses, and writing statements on their behalf.  To be clear — over the five year period in which the Friedman computer classes took place, no computer student or parent ever made any charge that they had been harmed in any way.   Similarly, no doctor or teacher or parent ever saw any medical or forensic evidence of the hundreds of violent attacks the police had alleged.

We have a lot of evidence, including recantations from witnesses, statements from other students in the computer classes stating nothing happened and documents indicating that the police pressured children into making claims of abuse that never occurred.  But proving innocence after a conviction isn’t as easy as presenting new evidence and statements.  It tends to be much more difficult than proving innocence at a trial, where the defendant is supposed to enjoy a presumption of innocence. Ironically, as you may recall, Judge Boklan, who originally presided over the case, openly declared her certainty that both Jesse and his father were guilty, demonstrating clear and unwavering bias that drove her hostility toward Jesse during the case.  Also, appeals and post-conviction cases mostly focus on errors made by the defendant’s legal representation, not on proof of the innocence of the defendant which, in most cases would have been presented at the trial (but remember, Jesse never had a trial).

We also have documents proving that back in 1988 the DA withheld a significant amount of evidence of Jesse’s innocence.  This material — known as “Brady material” for the Brady v. Maryland  case that mandated police and prosecutors turn over evidence that shows the defendant is innocent — must be turned over to the defense, though in Jesse’s case it never was.  In fact, though the DA admits they have thousands of pages of police reports and other evidence, they have for 27 years withheld this information from Jesse’s defense.  In 2010, Judge Winslow of the State Supreme Court ordered ordered that “every scrap of paper” in the DA’s files must be turned over to Jesse’s legal team.  Of course DA Rice is appealing that decision.

At the moment, our biggest challenge is the judge who’s been assigned to the case, Teresa Corrigan.  The problem with Judge Corrigan is that she is a close friend and longtime employee of DA Kathleen Rice, whose opposition to Jesse’s efforts has prevented any unbiased review of the case.  There is no reason to believe Judge Corrigan, who was recommended for judgeship by Kathleen Rice, will be able to rule that her close friend made terrible errors and misstatements in an effort to re-affirm Jesse’s conviction.

We’ve asked Judge Corrigan to recuse herself on more than one occasion and for more than one reason.  Corrigan was appointed ADA by Kathleen Rice and worked closely with Rice for many years. She was also a close colleague of Meg Reiss, DA Rice’s Chief of Staff who headed the Friedman reinvestigation and who was one of Corrigan’s largest financial supporters in her bid for judgeship, and a colleague of Sheryl Anania as well. All three worked together at the Brooklyn DA’s office for several years. In addition, Corrigan and Reiss were hand-picked by Rice to head up the investigation into the crime lab closure in Nassau County. She worked with Rice, Reiss and Anania while our case was on appeal and during the reinvestigation.

So while Rice does not oppose our hearing (a very good thing), our struggle to be heard in a fair and impartial setting goes on.  Thanks for reading and I’ll post again soon.

 

Our Defamation Suit: Why It’s a Fight Worth Winning

As you may know, the report issued by DA Kathleen Rice in June 2013 was filled with lies about Jesse that she hoped would turn public opinion against us and support her conclusion that he was not wrongfully convicted. In fact, according to Nassau County Supreme Court Justice F. Dana Winslow, the only reason for Rice’s distribution of this false information was to make Jesse appear to be “a bad guy.” Rice and two members of her staff  issued a press release featuring these horrible lies, and then directly reached out to tabloid newspapers to plant awful stories about Jesse.

One example was her assertion that while he was in prison, my husband had written and distributed shocking pornographic stories about bestiality and pedophilia. There is nothing to support this claim, and had they done even the most basic due diligence and performed a simple Google search they would have discovered the material had been written by someone else and published in 2011. Jesse had a “misbehavior report” in his file regarding unauthorized literature (which he was found “not guilty” of possessing ) and it was this one item of information that Rice used to concoct this awful story. Her office emailed seven pages of disgusting pornography that they were alleging Jesse wrote and distributed to tabloid newspapers including the New York Post. Of course to our horror they and other news outlets ran with the story, resulting in dozens of stories about it.

Another example is that DA Rice justified her conclusion that Jesse’s wrongful conviction should not be overturned by telling the press that a “renowned psychiatrist” had once diagnosed him as a “psychopathic deviant”  when in fact she knew that the source of this information had been completely discredited, had a conflict of interest and was not even a psychiatrist!

Our legal team repeatedly asked DA Rice’s office to retract her false statements and when she refused, we decided to file a defamation suit against her and the two information officers involved with releasing the damaging information. Her office responded by issuing a statement saying our suit is “meritless,” but her representative, Deputy Chief Robert Schwartz had already admitted in Nassau County Supreme Court that Jesse did not have any connection to this horrible pornography that Rice announced was authored by Jesse.  Schwartz also stated that before issuing her report she did not perform even the barest minimum of due diligence it would have taken to see that her claims were not true.

I hope this helps to clarify what the defamation suit we’re bringing against DA Rice is all about. In simple language, we’re not suing for anything to do with the original charges, though those are also complete lies, but rather for the false material that made up the “Rice Report.” Since this information was included in the report specifically to discredit Jesse and make him, in the words of Justice Winslow, look like “a bad guy,” and is patently and demonstrably false, we were left with no alternative than to bring a defamation suit against DA Rice and her information officers.

When I think about this suit I am reminded of a scene from an episode of the West Wing. Josh Lyman, the Deputy Chief of Staff is talking with one of the lawyers fighting the tobacco companies. It is a David and Goliath scenario similar to our own. The lawyer fighting the tobacco company tells Josh that he has only 31 lawyers on a case against five tobacco companies with 342 lawyers. He remarks,  “These people [tobacco companies] perpetrated a fraud against the public,” and adds “This is a fight worth winning.”

So it’s not just that Kathleen Rice’s acts were designed to make Jesse look like a bad guy, certainly that was part of it, but she created this fiction to embarrass witnesses who had come forward in Jesse’s defense, to frighten our supporters and to get rid of Jesse without having to address the merits of his claim to innocence. Rice’s lies have damaged us personally, and yes, that is a large part of why I care about this suit, but here’s why YOU should care about this suit: Rice also misled the public with this report. Government officials in positions of power should be held accountable when they lie.

She did not just hurt us; her acts disrupt the faith the public has in our government’s ability to govern fairly. This is a fight worth winning, not just on behalf of Jesse, but because holding government officials accountable for their actions and ensuring our institutions are trustworthy is actually an act of patriotism.  This is a fight worth winning.