Press Releases & Statements
NY STATE COURT OF APPEALS AGREES TO REVIEW LOWER COURT RULING TO TURN OVER “EVERY PIECE OF PAPER IN DA FILES” IN JESSE FRIEDMAN CASE
NASSAU SUPREME COURT ORDERED FRIEDMAN FILES GOING BACK 27 YEARS TO BE OPENED IN THE INTEREST OF JUSTICE
NASSAU COUNTY, NY April 5, 2016 - The New York State Court of Appeals has agreed to review a Nassau County Supreme Court ruling ordering the Nassau District Attorney to turn over its entire case file, going back 27 years, to Jesse Friedman. Friedman is currently undergoing an actual innocence evidentiary hearing in Nassau County Court seeking to overturn his conviction.
Friedman attorney Ron Kuby said, “The Court's decision to hear Friedman's appeal is a major step in the direction of transparency and open government. The Nassau County DA's office has long resisted the winds of change, preferring stuffy rooms to fresh air, secrecy to openness. They will now have their chance to make that case to the State's highest court. We are confident that open government will prevail.”
Jesse Friedman said: “I am very pleased with the decision of the Court of Appeals to review Nassau Supreme Court Judge Winslow’s order that the complete Friedman file be opened. Judge Winlsow, the only person apart from the DA to review the files, concluded that there was exculpatory evidence withheld, that none of the witness statements were written by the children themselves, and that those statements had glaring discrepancies.
“We are hopeful that the Court of Appeals will join others in recognizing that justice can only be served by a full and transparent hearing of the facts in my case. We look forward to have the opportunity to review the entire file and see what Judge Winslow and no one else has had the opportunity to review. We expect that this will reveal further evidence of my innocence.”
“We now have over 45 witnesses who have come forward to state that nothing happened in the computer classes in my home. Five children have recanted as well as, Ross Goldstein, the only adult witness, who has stated unequivocally that he was coerced and threatened into incriminating me.”
Judge F. Dana Winlsow’s Decision
In August 2013, after reviewing Friedman case files himself and holding multiple hearings on the issue, Nassau County Supreme Court Justice F. Dana Winslow conveyed from the bench his grave concerns about the exculpatory nature of the materials withheld from Friedman, and ordered the disclosure of “every piece of paper”with Friedman’s name on it. Speaking to the DA, Judge Winslow stated, “If there is a doubt on your part, it is every aspect, every part, every piece of paper that has been generated in the matter of People against Jesse Friedman, the 1987,1988 case.”
DA Kathleen Rice appealed the decision to the Appellate Court, Second Department. Oral arguments were held on Tuesday, February 10, 2015.
Judge Winslow discovered that the District Attorney had withheld thousands of pages of materials, including all of the original witness statements and investigative materials demonstrating police misconduct, from an Advisory Panel charged with overseeing the DA’s Friedman case review.
Accordingly, the Judge stated, “It is hereby ordered that the District Attorney of Nassau County provide all documents, records of all kinds including the Grand Jury minutes, redacting only the names of the complaining witnesses.” He further ordered an unusual ‘no-touch’ order preventing the DA from tampering with the documents: “During such time, no document of any kind may be moved, re-filed or in any way handled, touched by anyone in the District Attorney's Office.”
The Nassau DA had refused repeated requests for documents made by Friedman attorney Ron Kuby under the New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). Friedman believes information from the Nassau DA’s investigatory files would prove that police investigators completely fabricated evidence and coerced computer students who attended classes in the Friedman home to implicate Friedman in bizarre sexual abuse allegations. Although there was never any complaints or physical evidence found, police alleged that 14 children, ages 8-12, were sexually abused.
Jesse Friedman said, “The only judge to examine my case spoke into the record that the file contains strong evidence that the Nassau District Attorneys, past and present, have been hiding evidence that exonerates me. Information he found so egregious he ordered not only that the DA turn over every scrap of paper, but that they not touch the file.”
After holding multiple hearings on the issue, Nassau County Supreme Court Justice F. Dana Winslow expressed his grave concerns about the exculpatory nature of the materials withheld from Friedman, and ordered the disclosure of “every piece of paper.”
According to Friedman’s motion to affirm Winslow's ruling:
The charges against Friedman, described by the Second Circuit as “bizarre, sadistic, and even logistically implausible” were as implausible as those described in over 70 other mass hysteria cases of the period including the McMartin case, virtually all of which later unraveled. The charges – described in the Rice Report as “realistic” – included accounts of mass sexual games with names like “Leapfrog” in which up to five adults would attack a classroom full of children, lining them up and serially sodomizing them by “leaping” from one to the next. Charges included one child having been sodomized every fifteen minutes over the course of ten 90-minute classes, and even more frequently in special “make-up” classes. Despite the overwhelming number of counts (243) and alleged victims:
- There was no medical or physical evidence of such violent sexual abuse.
- There were no complaints of abuse for years by any student prior to police interrogations.
- No parent had ever raised suspicions.
- Many students who sat alongside complainants in classes in which abuse was alleged did not corroborate the complainants’ recollections of abuse. No child in the Friedman case wrote his own statement. Every statement was composed by a detective, usually after multiple interviews, and many contain decidedly adult language.
In 1988, in the midst of a national hysteria regarding false allegations of child sexual abuse in schools and day care centers (epitomized by the now-overturned McMartin Preschool case), police alleged that Jesse Friedman, his father Arnold, and three other teenagers had violently abused hundreds of children attending after-school computer classes at the Friedmans' Great Neck home, though over a period of five years, no child or parent had ever complained, and no medical or physical evidence was ever produced.
Eighteen year-old Jesse Friedman, then a freshman studying music and psychology at SUNY Purchase, was charged with 244 counts of child sexual abuse, and forced to plead guilty after being threatened with life in prison by Judge Abigail Boklan who, despite having heard no evidence in the case, was convinced of Jesse Friedman’s guilt. Friedman served 13 years in maximum-security prisons and remains branded as a Level III “violent sexual predator.”
In 2003, the case became the subject of the Academy Award-nominated documentary, Capturing the Friedmans, directed by Andrew Jarecki, which raised doubts about the validity of the prosecution. In the film, police officers admit to shocking misconduct, a number of the original complainants recant their accusations, and the Judge admits she “never had a doubt” about the Friedman’s guilt despite never having seen evidence at trial.
After Friedman fought for decades to clear his name, in 2010 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an extraordinary opinion, concluding that there was a “reasonable likelihood Jesse Friedman was wrongfully convicted.”
Part of the mountain of new evidence discovered or brought forward by Friedman’s legal team, is a complete recantation from Ross Goldstein, the prosecution’s only adult witness, and more than twenty-five statements from eyewitnesses to the computer classes stating that no abuse occurred – despite prosecution claims that children were raped in “plain view” of the entire class.Goldstein, who was charged with 118 counts of sexual abuse of children, now says that:
“…Every single thing found in my testimony was untrue and said by me at the time to avoid a trial. I never saw Jesse or Arnold Friedman abuse any children, nor did I ever sexually abuse any children.”
“I did not witness Jesse or anyone else commit any crimes in the Friedman home with any computer student. My testimony before the grand jury was a result of tremendous and unrelenting pressure and intimidation by the police and district attorney’s office in which I was eventually coerced to lie about crimes taking place in order to try to save myself and be granted the YO status deal that was being offered to me.”
Barry Scheck, the most prominent member of District Attorney Kathleen Rice’s “Friedman Case Advisory Panel” and co-founder of The Innocence Project, submitted an affidavit with Judge Corrigan asking the Court to undertake a “full evidentiary hearing” and release to Friedman’s lawyers the original case files that have been kept secret by the DA for over 27 years.
In Scheck’s words: “I believe it would be desirable for the court and the parties, utilizing whatever procedural mechanisms the court deems suitable, to review materials not available to the Advisory Panel, such as grand jury minutes, the original case file, and the results of the re-investigation to aid in finally resolving, to the extent possible the issue of Jesse Friedman’s guilt or innocence.”
Scheck joins a chorus of other respected voices in criminal justice in requesting the disclosure of these files, including N. Scott Banks, the former law secretary for the Judge who convicted Jesse. Banks wrote a letter requesting that Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Winslow “grant Mr. Friedman’s application, and direct the District Attorney to disclose this extremely relevant evidence to his attorneys and provide a level of transparency very much needed in this matter.” Banks felt that grand jury testimony in the case was equally suspect as he was one of the few people to have read the grand jury minutes: “The grand jury testimony of child witnesses, largely elicited with leading questions by the prosecutor, demanding ‘yes or no’ responses, provided absolutely no detail.”
For more information about Jesse Friedman’s wrongful conviction, go to www.freejesse.net.