On Monday, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office released a 155-page “Conviction Integrity Review” of a multi-victim child sexual-abuse case that ended in 1988 with a guilty plea by Jesse Friedman. The report includes four appendices with almost 1,000 pages. As stated in this New York Times story, the report concludes: “By any impartial analysis, the reinvestigation process prompted by Jesse Friedman, his advocates and the Second Circuit, has only increased confidence in the integrity of Jesse Friedman’s guilty plea and adjudication as a sex offender.”
The Friedman case has nothing to do with recovered memory. At least, the actual facts of the case have nothing to do with recovered memory. But ever since the movie Capturing the Friedmans (2003), the defense has been making claims that hypnosis poisoned the case against Jesse Friedman. The Times reported in October 2007 that “Friedman and his lawyer, Ron Kuby, say they have evidence indicating that some of the other youths who accused the Friedmans were hypnotized before testifying to the grand jury.” As it turns out, they did not have any evidence to that effect. The Conviction Integrity Review concluded that there was no credible evidence that hypnosis was used on any complainants in the case (pp. 77-79).
One underreported aspect of the report is the documentation of how misleading Capturing the Friedmans was in several places. We said as much in 2009, with this video critique.* The new report makes it clear that the Gregory Doe excerpt in the movie is even more misleading than we ever imagined. That is the excerpt that made it appear that the man did not disclose anything until after he started therapy. But the review panel examined the interview “in its unedited form” and concluded that it “reveals an account that is dramatically different” from what is portrayed in the movie (p.79). The man actually told the filmmakers that he disclosed to police “the very first night” (negating any claims that therapy that started three weeks later created his claims), that “he threw up for three days after he first disclosed to police,” and that he “developed an anal fissure after being sodomized.” As the report notes, all of those details were left out of the movie.
John Anderson’s story in today’s New York Times explores the ethical issues involved in the relationship between documentary filmmakers and their subjects. Great topic. Too bad that Mr. Anderson, who wrote at length about Capturing the Friedmans, did not actually research the court file in the case. He would have found this remarkable letter from Sam Israel, Jesse Friedman’s personal lawyer at the time, accusing Andrew Jarecki of the same kind of coercion and manipulation that Jarecki attributes to law enforcement in the underlying case. Mr. Anderson might also have found this description of an e-mail from Andrew Jarecki, telling Jesse Friedman’s lawyer at the time: “I’m not going to give you access to materials now. Wait. Wait for the press to build up a little more.” (Hearing, October 3, 2007, p.10)
Jesse Friedman’s recent loss in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals was based on the statute of limitations. Accordingly, there is a good argument that his appeal was doomed by how Andrew Jarecki exploited the matter. Not that Friedman would ever have won on the merits anyway. See, Critiquing “Capturing the Friedmans.”
A federal appellate court recently upheld Jesse Friedman’s conviction in connection with a sexual-abuse case that was popularized in the 2003 movie Capturing the Friedmans. The court concluded that it was bound by law to uphold Friedman’s conviction—which was based on his guilty plea—but two of the three judges nevertheless urged the district attorney to review the case based entirely on claims made in the movie.
This may be the first time that a federal court paid more attention to the movie version of a case than it did to the case itself. But a careful examination of court records reveals that Capturing the Friedmans leaves out important evidence of guilt and distorts many facts in the case.
Most pertinent to this blog is the assertion that the case may have been built on hypnosis. There is no credible evidence for this claim. Indeed, in an October 2007 hearing, Friedman’s own lawyer described the single excerpt in the movie about hypnosis as “reliable evidence of nothing” (p. 12). It is fair to characterize the movie, he went on, as “containing interviews, cut and spliced, and taken out of context.” Those problems and other inaccuracies are addressed in the video critique below.
One might wonder why someone who failed two lie detector tests, pleaded guilty, told the judge he was “sorry for [his] actions,” asked for “assistance with [his] problem,” and then reaffirmed his guilty plea from prison would ever be embraced as innocent. The reasons apparently have nothing to do with the facts of the case.