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Editorial: Let findings end doubt about Friedman case

Jesse Friedman and his wife, Lisabeth, hold a

Jesse Friedman and his wife, Lisabeth, hold a news conference at the courthouse in Mineola after Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice released the results of a three-year review of his 1988 sex abuse case. (June 24, 2013) Credit: Howard Schnapp

It's time to close the book on a sordid episode in Long Island history in which a teacher and his son sexually abused young boys during computer classes in their Great Neck home.

After a three-year review of the 1988 case, Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice concluded in a report released Monday that the son, Jesse Friedman, was not wrongfully convicted.

The goal of any prosecution should be to see justice done, not just to win a conviction. So officials must always remain open to the possibility that they got it wrong. That's especially true in a case like the one against Arnold and Jesse Friedman, which included multiple victims and was prosecuted at a time when the nation was in a panic about child sex abuse. That panic was fed by cases such as one in California in 1984 in which Virginia McMartin and her relatives were accused of sexually abusing 200 preschool students in wildly implausible ways. After six years of trials and no convictions, the charges were dropped.

Unlike the McMartins, Jesse and his father, Arnold, both pleaded guilty in 1988 to multiple counts of sexual abuse. Arnold died in prison in 1995. Jesse served 13 years and was paroled in 2001. After a 2003 documentary, "Capturing the Friedmans," raised doubts about the prosecution, Jesse sought to have his conviction overturned. He questioned police interview techniques that he said led to false allegations, and said prosecutors and the judge pushed him to plead involuntarily.

Even though Friedman had exhausted his legal appeals, Rice gave his case the hard look it demanded. Most of his victims stood by their accusations. Howard Friedman said his brother, Arnold, admitted privately that he and Jesse were guilty. And an advisory panel of outside experts -- including Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project that is dedicated to righting wrongful convictions -- vouched for the integrity of the process and signed off on its conclusions. Hopefully the Friedmans' victims can finally put this ugly case behind them for good.