Suggesting that Jesse Friedman may have been wrongly convicted of sexually abusing children in his father's Great Neck home 23 years ago, a federal appeals court has urged Nassau prosecutors to take a second look at the high-profile case that was based in part on memories that children recalled in therapy.
The evidence in the case "suggests 'a reasonable likelihood' that Friedman was wrongfully convicted," said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in a 31-page decision that ultimately turned down Friedman's bid to have his conviction overturned because he filed it too late.
The decision, released Monday, criticized police, prosecutors and the judge in the case for being caught up in a "hysteria" of the times.
"Vast moral panic fueled a series of highly-questionable sex abuse prosecutions," the court wrote. ". . . Prosecutors have an obligation to curb police overzealousness. In this case, instead of acting to neutralize the moral panic, the prosecution allowed itself to get swept up in it."
In a statement, spokeswoman Carole Trottere said Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice's office is "reviewing the decision and will be giving the court's opinion serious thought and consideration."
Friedman, 40, pleaded guilty 22 years ago to abusing several children as a teenager with his father, Arnold, while operating a computer school in their Great Neck home. 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 and killed himself in prison in 1995.
Jesse Friedman has sought to overturn his conviction based on what he says is new evidence of police misconduct that he discovered upon watching the Academy Award-nominated documentary "Capturing the Friedmans" in 2003. That misconduct, he claims, included using experimental hypnosis techniques to help witnesses recollect abuse.
The court said Nassau police were part of a nationwide "hysteria" over child sex abusers that ran rampant in the 1980s and led to numerous convictions that have since been reversed.
Nassau police spokesman Det. Lt. Kevin Smith said he had not seen the decision, but added, "It would be unfair for me to criticize the investigative tactics that were used 23 years ago."
The decision also rebukes former Nassau County Court Judge Abbey Boklan for admitting that she had no doubt of the defendant's guilt even before she heard the evidence. Boklan could not be reached last night.
Manhattan attorney Ronald Kuby, who represents Friedman in his appeals, called the decision "the very first public vindication of Jesse Friedman."
While Friedman still has other avenues, Kuby said, for now, he is waiting for Rice to make the next move. He said Friedman, who is now married, is "holding fast that there is still hope for justice and he and his wife take solace in the court's decision."
Citing evidence brought to light by the documentary, the court's decision criticizes police for using "hostile," "suggestive" and "harassing" techniques to force several children to admit to having been sexually abused by Jesse Friedman.
"Detectives generally entered an interview with the presumption that a child had been abused and refused to accept denials of abuse," said the court, adding that some of the allegations made by the accusers were "logistically impossible."
So-called recovered memory, some psychologists say, is suppressed until it can be extracted through therapy. The judges said further research has shown that the majority of such memories have been proven false.
Kevin Keating, a Garden City defense attorney who won a high-profile 2006 acquittal for a Syosset mother whose three children said they had recovered memories of being abused by her, said, "There has been a sea change in the notion that recovered memories have any degree of reliability. The DA should look closely at any aspect of this case that was based on recovered memory."
With Ann Givens
and Matthew Chayes