GARDEN CITY, N.Y. – A prosecutor said Tuesday she will select a group of law-enforcement, legal and social science experts to help her investigators review a notorious child molestation case from the 1980s, although a defense attorney says he prefers the involvement of an independent prosecutor.
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice's announcement comes a day after a federal appeals court criticized police, prosecutors and the judge who handled the case against Arnold and Jesse Friedman.
A teenage Friedman and his father pleaded guilty in 1988 to molesting 13 children during computer classes in the basement of their home in Great Neck, on Long Island. Jesse Friedman has long contended he was coerced into making the guilty plea and the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals said Monday there is good cause to believe that might be true.
"The record here suggests 'a reasonable likelihood' that Jesse Friedman was wrongfully convicted," the judges said in a ruling rejecting Friedman's appeal on technical grounds. The judges noted that "the police, prosecutors and the judge did everything they could to coerce a guilty plea and avoid a trial."
Jesse Friedman, now 40, was paroled in 2001; his father committed suicide in prison in 1995. The pair were charged with several hundred counts of sex abuse. Their story was the subject of the 2003 Oscar-nominated documentary "Capturing the Friedmans."
The documentary, which featured archive video footage of the Friedmans, revealed evidence prosecutors had withheld — that at least one of the children who accused Friedman did so under hypnosis arranged by police.
Rice, who was elected in 2005 and had no role in the initial prosecution, said in a statement that she has ordered that all the records and files from this conviction be delivered to investigators immediately.
"I expect to waste no time in starting this necessary process," said Rice, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for state attorney general. She said because she wants "to ensure the transparency and impartiality of the investigative process, I have chosen to impanel a team of recognized law-enforcement, legal and social science experts to work alongside my prosecutors throughout this investigation."
Rice said the experts have yet to be chosen, but their names will be announced as the case proceeds. She promised the investigation would be "thorough and it will be fair."
Friedman's attorney, Ronald Kuby, said he would prefer that a special prosecutor be named to investigate, claiming Rice's office has fought prior attempts at reopening the Friedman investigation.
"There are many, many people in the state of New York, former judges and prosecutors with expertise in examining alleged wrongful convictions," Kuby said. "The DA should rethink this and request a special prosecutor."
The federal judges noted that at the time Friedman pleaded guilty, "allegations of outrageously bizarre and often ritualistic child abuse spread like wildfire across the country and garnered worldwide media attention."
They said nearly all those convicted in nearly a dozen major child sex abuse and satanic ritual prosecutions between 1984 and 1995 were later exonerated.