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.