Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice announced Tuesday that she will form a committee to re-examine the decades-old child sexual abuse case against Jesse Friedman, after a federal appeals court decision Monday urged her to do just that.
"A prosecutor's job is not to obtain convictions, but to obtain justice," Rice said in a statement. "I cannot predict whether or not our investigation will corroborate the criminal case brought against Mr. Friedman more than two decades ago. What I can guarantee is that my investigation will be thorough and it will be fair."
Rice said she will appoint a committee of her own assistants to re-examine the case, which drew national attention and was based in part on memories of children who recalled their stories of abuse in therapy and during police questioning. About 22 years ago, Friedman, then 18, and his father, Arnold, then 56, pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a number of children attending a computer school operated out of their Great Neck home. Arnold Friedman killed himself in prison in 1995.
Rice also will compile a panel of experts in law enforcement, law and social science to oversee the prosecutors' panel, making sure the process is transparent and impartial. The original prosecutor, Joseph Onorato, still works in the office part-time as an assistant district attorney, spokeswoman Carole Trottere said. He will not be on the committee but is likely to be interviewed by it, Trottere said.
On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision that denied Friedman's bid to withdraw his guilty plea. But the court criticized police, prosecutors and the judge in the case, saying they were overzealous and swept up in the hysteria of the times. The result, the court said, was that Jesse Friedman, now 40, was probably wrongly convicted and was pressured into pleading guilty to a crime he may not have committed.
Reached at his home yesterday, Friedman said he was encouraged to hear Rice "seems to be doing the right thing."
"This is the closest I've ever had to a fair hearing of the evidence against me, and I hope that's what comes to fruition," he said. "But I will be cautiously optimistic. It's hard for me to have too much faith in the Nassau County district attorney's office."
Friedman's attorney, Ron Kuby of Manhattan, called for a special prosecutor, saying Rice's office has obstructed Friedman's efforts to vindicate himself. "Better judgment would dictate that this entire case would be placed in the hands of people who have no prior relationship to it."
More than a dozen children filed complaints and the younger Friedman pleaded guilty to charges that included sodomy, sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a minor. He was sentenced to 6 to 18 years in prison and was paroled in 2001.
His father pleaded guilty to 42 counts of sexual abuse.