NEW YORK – A man vying to overturn his conviction in a notorious 1980s child molestation case is not entitled to "every single piece of paper" in his criminal file, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday, reversing a lower court's ruling that ordered prosecutors to turn over the records.
Jesse Friedman, who spent 13 years behind bars, has fought for more than a decade since his release to try to overturn his conviction. He and his father, Arnold Friedman, pleaded guilty to abusing 13 boys who had taken computer classes in the basement of their home in Great Neck, Long Island. Their case was the subject of an Oscar-nominated 2003 documentary "Capturing the Friedmans."
Jesse Friedman feared a potential life sentence had he been convicted at trial. His father killed himself in prison in 1995.
The son, who is now 46 and living in Connecticut as a registered sex offender, had asked the appeals court to release the records. He and his attorney, Ron Kuby, argued the information was vital to proving their case at a hearing in Nassau County in which Friedman is vying to prove his "actual innocence."
In their decision, judges on the state Supreme Court Appellate Division panel wrote that the statements of non-testifying witnesses should remain confidential and would not be subjected to the state's public records law. Because Friedman pleaded guilty, there was no trial. They also ruled that Friedman failed to show that grand jury material — transcripts of which are rarely disclosed — would be needed for him to prove his case.
"The decision perpetuates the fiction that witness' statements to the police are inherently confidential, even though the police do not, and cannot, make any such promise," Kuby said in a statement. "Maintaining this secrecy makes it that much harder for the wrongfully convicted to clear their names and that much easier for prosecutors to conceal their misconduct."
Friedman said he was "very disappointed with the decision" and that he was considering whether to appeal.
"Jesse Friedman's victims never testified in open court because he pleaded guilty, forfeiting his right to a public trial," said Shams Tarek, a spokesman for Acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas. "We are gratified that the court recognized that the statements of non-testifying witnesses are confidential and not disclosable under the law."
Nassau County prosecutors, who opposed the release of the records in order to protect the victims, have consented to an actual innocence hearing, though the timing of that court proceeding remains unclear.
"I was innocent in 1987 and I am innocent today," Friedman said. "I look forward to proving that in my actual innocence hearing."