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.