NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York man who spent 13 years in prison for the sexual abuse of minors in the 1980s was rightfully convicted, prosecutors said on Monday, a legal setback in a decade-long campaign to exonerate Jesse Friedman after an Oscar-nominated documentary questioned his prosecution and guilt.
An extensive three-year review “has only increased confidence in the integrity of Jesse Friedman’s guilty plea and adjudication as a sex offender,” Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said in a 155-page report.
Friedman was 18 in 1988 when he and his father, Arnold Friedman, were accused of molesting more than a dozen boys during computer classes taught in their home in the upscale Long Island town of Great Neck.
Both Friedmans pleaded guilty, and Jesse served 13 years in prison before being released on parole in 2001.
In 2004, he began efforts to overturn his conviction, saying he had been railroaded by the criminal justice system amid a fervor to jail child molesters.
He has been seeking revocation of his child sex offender status, saying it restricts him from leading a normal life.
His father, who claimed he pleaded guilty in hopes of keeping Jesse from behind bars, killed himself in prison in 2005.
The notorious sex abuse case got renewed attention 10 years ago with the release of the documentary “Capturing the Friedmans,” in which filmmaker Andrew Jarecki pieced together home video footage and other evidence questioning the police work and prosecution that led to the Friedmans’ conviction.
The film was nominated for an Academy Award in 2003.
Supporters of Friedman, hoping to clear his name, say five of the 14 children who accused him of molestation have recanted.
The review panel referred to “misleading film portrayals” of the judge and detective who helped prosecute the case.
“Thirteen children accused Jesse Friedman of criminal misconduct within the first five weeks of the investigation,” the report said.
“None of the five individuals who Friedman advocates suggest ‘recanted’ have,” it concluded.
Friedman’s attorney Ron Kuby said the report was “disappointing but hardly surprising.”
“Kathleen Rice consistently used every legal technicality available to her to prevent Jesse Friedman from having his day in court,” he said.
Kuby said he has unearthed more evidence proving “these crimes never happened. And so we are going to go back to court to fight again,” he said.
Since his release from prison, Friedman has gotten married and launched an online business.
The district attorney undertook the review of Friedman’s case after a federal appeals court in 2010 refused to overturn his conviction but said his prosecution might have been tainted by biased police work.
The appeals court also said some young victims might have been pushed to confess.
The review panel included a half dozen prosecutors and an independent review team.
“The four principal concerns raised by the Second Circuit are not substantiated by the evidence,” the report said. “In fact, by any impartial analysis, the re-investigation process prompted by Jesse Friedman, his advocates, and the Second Circuit, has only increased confidence in the integrity of Jesse Friedman’s guilty plea,” it concluded.
Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Cynthia Osterman