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The Conviction Integrity Review of People v. Friedman

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.

This serves to emphasize the importance of a point we made years ago:  when it comes to movies like Capturing the Friedmans, the important question is not “Who Do You Believe?” (the tagline for the movie) but rather, “What was Left Out?” Fortunately, we now have a comprehensive report that answers that question in detail. It should be required reading for anyone who still thinks that this film merits the label “documentary.”

——– * The only argument in our 2009 critique that requires updating, in light of the Conviction Integrity Review, concerns Ross Goldstein, who also pleaded guilty in the case. Andrew Jarecki left Goldstein out of the original movie, arguing that he was unimportant.  A few days ago, Friedman’s public relations team claimed that Goldstein is now vital to the case–because he recently recanted.  As the report indicates,  this “recantation” cannot be squared with what Goldstein told Jarecki when he was originally interviewed. Additional  reasons why his recantation was not considered credible are detailed on pages 134-142.

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