Jesse Friedman, whose imprisonment for child molestation was captured in “Capturing the Friedmans,” wants a new trial based on information revealed in the award-winning documentary.
Manhattan attorney Earl Nemser said Wednesday he’s filing papers in Nassau County Court seeking a new trial for the 34-year-old Friedman, the youngest member of the Great Neck, N.Y., family featured in the film.
Friedman and his father were imprisoned in the late 1980s for sexually abusing dozens of children. Nemser says the film shows prosecutors withheld “important facts” that could have exonerated the younger man.
The film, which won the documentary grand prize at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and was named best nonfiction film by the New York Film Critics Circle, has appeared on several critics’ top 10 lists and has been mentioned as a possible Oscar nominee.
Portrayed as part of a 'pedophile circus'
Friedman was 19 when he pleaded guilty to child sex abuse in 1988 after being charged with hundreds of counts alleging he and his father, Arnold, molested children during computer classes in their suburban home.
Jesse Friedman was sentenced to 6 to 18 years and was paroled after 13 years in prison; he’s now a registered sex offender living in Manhattan. His father, an admitted pedophile who also was convicted of sending child pornography through the mail, died in prison in 1995.
“Had Jesse known at the time about the doubts which the prosecutor knew about, it could have been used in his defense,” Nemser said. “He would not have pled guilty and he ... would have had a very, very good chance of being acquitted.”
A spokesman for Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon declined to comment, saying prosecutors had not yet seen the court papers.
Nemser claimed the “vast majority” of the computer students police questioned had no recollection of abuse despite being interviewed many times. Notes from those interviews weren’t provided to the defense, he said.
Nemser said another alleged victim was hypnotized before making incriminating statements against the Friedmans, a technique he claims has dubious results.
He added that several people said they gave false testimony to investigators to “end the questioning.”
The abuse claims came “only after repeated pressure and questioning and suggestive conduct,” he said. “The victims seemed to have been arm twisted into buying into the prosecutors’ theory that this was some kind of pedophile circus going on.”
Friedman felt he had no choice
Nemser conceded that Friedman “was not telling the truth” when he entered his guilty plea, admitting he abused children.
“Jesse was put into a corner and had to plead guilty,” Nemser said. “The pressure mounted until he had no clear choice: Either plead guilty and get a limited sentence or face the prospect of a conviction at trial and an even longer prison term.”
The attorney added that Friedman is the beneficiary of “an enormous windfall” of evidence because of the research director Andrew Jarecki did.
“I’ve been waiting 16 years now to prove my innocence,” said Friedman, who’s been taking courses at Hunter College since his release from prison. “Andrew was able to uncover a tremendous amount of information ... to prove what I always suspected was the case. I never doubted me.”
Jarecki said he’s “very supportive” of Friedman’s quest for a new trial. He said people “come away from the film thinking that Jesse was railroaded.”
“I still haven’t found anyone who gave credible evidence of Jesse’s guilt,” he said. “That’s a hard thing for me to overlook. Based on the quality of the police work, I think the case should have been thrown out.”