Criminal Justice

2nd Circuit Blasts Judge, Prosecutors in Sex Abuse Case Chronicled in Documentary

A federal appeals court has upheld the sexual abuse conviction of a New York man whose case was chronicled in a documentary, even as the panel blasted the trial judge and prosecutors who got swept up in the “moral panic” over child abuse.

The New York-based appeals court suggested the conviction of Jesse Friedman should be reopened at the state level, but said it could not grant his habeas petition because it was filed too late, according to the New York Times and the Associated Press.

”The record here suggests ‘a reasonable likelihood’ that Jesse Friedman was wrongfully convicted,” the court said.

Jesse Friedman was only 17 when he was charged along with his father with molesting 13 children in the basement of their Long Island home during computer classes. Friedman has said he pleaded guilty because he felt his defense would not be successful. The elder Friedman committed suicide in prison. The case was chronicled in the documentary Capturing the Friedmans, which revealed that at least one of the children did not make abuse accusations until he was hypnotized by police.

The decision (PDF) by the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the District Attorney’s office in Nassau County allowed itself to get swept up in “moral panic” over ritualistic child abuse, the Times report says. The opinion also said the now-retired trial judge in the case had “admitted that she never had any doubt about the defendant’s guilt even before she heard any of the evidence,” increasing the pressure on Friedman to plead guilty.

Police interviewed children repeatedly until they admitted abuse, the opinion says, and rewarded cooperative children with pizza parties and police badges. Several children have since admitted they made up abuse allegations after aggressive questioning.

Friedman’s lawyer, Ron Kuby, told the Times he has never been so pleased by a losing decision. Jesse Friedman was paroled in 2001. Kuby told AP Friedman is married and living in an undisclosed location on the East Coast.

Prior coverage: “Judge Turns Down Appeal of Jesse Friedman, Subject of Documentary”

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