Jesse Friedman, who served 13 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit, is now awaiting a decision that could overturn the conviction. Please take a few minutes to acquaint yourself with this story and please consider visiting the website, Justice for Jesse, where you can sign a petition supporting Jesse's case. A video explaining the case is available on The Huffington Post.
My friend Elaine Friedman is a petite, sweet-tempered woman with a blunt pixie haircut and a rolling Long Island accent that spills over into delightful squeals now and then. She is soft spoken and kind-hearted and she's suffered terrible heartache.
Her first husband, Arnold, and her son, Jesse, went to prison in 1988 after authorities found them guilty of molesting children in an after-school computer class held in the family basement. The "crime" -- which never went to trial -- was a huge sensation in Long Island in the 1980s. Some time later, director Andrew Jarecki made a documentary film called Capturing the Friedmans which brought the family's dysfunction to the big screen. The film was nominated for an Oscar in 2003.
One night in July of 2003, Elaine and I drove to a theater up in Williamstown, Massachusetts to see the movie together. Until that night, Elaine -- who taught me Hebrew at our temple in Great Barrington -- had not had the courage to see the movie in a theater. To say that the movie was disturbing doesn't begin to describe the whipsaw of emotions I felt that evening as Elaine and I watched the tragic and horrifying details of her family's misfortune splayed before us. The movie incorporates extensive video footage that Arnold shot of the family all through the years.
One of the main reasons that Jarecki made the film was to help Elaine's son Jesse. There was never a single bit of evidence to suggest that Jesse, who was a teenager at the time, molested anyone. He has maintained his innocence all along, and now Jarecki is leading the fight to have Jesse's verdict reversed.
A review of the case is underway by the current New York's Nassau County District Attorney, Kathleen Rice; as Jarecki points out in a piece on The Huffington Post, the DA's review follows a 2010 ruling by the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that evidence in the case was "extraordinarily suspect," and that there was "a reasonable likelihood Jesse Friedman was wrongfully convicted." The DA convened a committee to review the case and included on that panel Barry Scheck, director of the Innocence Project.
Jarecki has provided the DA's office a ton of new evidence supporting Jesse's innocence. Indeed, he tracked down and interviewed numerous individuals who were supposedly molested by Jesse and his father in the computer class. Now grown men, they deny ever having been touched by either of the Friedmans. In one case, Jarecki notes, a successful doctor in his 30s told him: "As God is my witness and on my children's lives, I was never raped or sodomized, and I never saw a kid sodomized or molested. And if I said it, it was not because it happened, it was because someone else put those words in my mouth."
It now appears as though overzealous authorities made it their duty to convince the boys to say that they had been molested.
Jesse is out of jail on parole now, but he still lives with a fiercely negative stigma: under Megan's Law, he is classified as a Level III Violent Sexual Predator.
I've met Jesse and he is soft spoken and kind, much like his Mom. I hope you will visit Justice for Jesse, and sign the petition that could finally set him -- and his mother -- free.