There was great news in this morning’s inbox from Elisabeth Friedman, wife of Jesse Friedman. After running into wall after brick wall in his attempt to have his conviction overturned, Jesse’s finally caught a break: A federal judge has granted his habeas corpus petition.
Jesse was one of numerous innocent victims of the wave of mass-child-sex-abuse cases that swept the country in the l980s and l990s. Convicted as a teenager of molesting boys who took computer classes from his father, who was also convicted, he served 13 years in prison for a crime that looks more and more like one that never happened. ( See the celebrated documentary Capturing the Friedmans for more on the case.) The ingredients common to sex-panic cases were all present: an over-zealous police and prosecutor, a hostile community, frenzied media, dubious therapeutic practices like recovered memory and hypnosis, immense pressure put on kids to say what the prosecution wanted to hear, evidence withheld from the defense, and so on. In the light of what we now know about false confessions, which minors are particularly likely to make, Jesse’s plea bargain stands as yet more evidence that too often innocent people can be made to look guilty.
Our system of justice runs on money — shouldn’t be so, but that’s the way it is. After almost 20 years entangled in the case, the Friedman family is reaching out for help. If you can contribute even $5 to Jesse’s defense fund, you can help him take his fight to prove his innocence to the next level. You can make a donation through Paypal at www.FriedmanDefenseFund.org. Or you can write a check to NCRJ with Jesse Friedman on the memo line and mail it to National Center for Reason and Justice P.O. Box 230414 Boston MA 02123-0414.
Please help get the word out — forward this e mail to your friends, post it on your blog. This case is about one person railroaded by the justice system, but it’s also about all of us. Our system. Our justice.
Elisabeth’s letter is long, but I’m quoting it in full and hope you’ll read the whole thing. It gives a clear account of what’s at stake in the upcoming phase of the case, and is also quite moving.
Dear Friends and Supporters,
After 20 years of fighting for justice, we finally have our firstsignificant victory. Jesse has been granted a hearing in FederalCourt. Finally we have the opportunity to call witnesses, depose thoseinvolved in the prosecution, and possibly have Jesse’s convictionoverturned. The legal issues are somewhat complicated, but I’ll tryto explain:
In the Federal appeal we raised three issues each relating to thewithholding of information which should have been provided to Jesseprior to trial. These were Constitutional violations and had we knownof any of this information at the time, Jesse would have mostcertainly have taken his case to trial rather than pleading guilty.
The following are three issues raised.
1) More than 100 children were present during the computer classes (atthe same time as the alleged abuse was going on) who told the police,I was there and nothing happened. This was never disclosed to thedefense.
2) As our lawyers put it: “There was a crucible of suggestion,intimidation, and falsification on the part of the police. Theprosecution failed to disclose exculpatory evidence showing that thepolice utilized aggressive suggestive and coercive interrogationtechniques they knew, or should have known, would yield falseallegations.”
3) The use of hypnosis during therapeutic sessions resulted in asituation of potential “implanted memory” or “repressed memorysyndrome” and should have been disclosed to the defense at the time.
In her decision the federal judge ruled on the first two issues thatthe statute of limitations had expired and denied our petition. It isworthy to note that she did NOT rule our issues were meritless, merelythat they were time-barred.
However, on the third issue, relating to hypnosis, Judge Seybertordered a hearing to determine to what extent hypnosis was used, andhow gross a constitutional violation this newly discovered evidenceproves itself to be.
Our lawyer told us the chance of being granted a hearing from a habeascorpus was about as probable as walking into the corner deli andwinning a million dollars on a scratch off lottery ticket.
In our hearts we never thought it would be possible for Jesse to havea fair day in court. Nonetheless, we did everything possible to proveJesse’s innocence. He never hurt those children. The lie perpetratedon his life was also perpetrated on the lives of those children whowere “accusers.” The relentless questioning by the police, and thetherapists who used hypnosis on children as a means of elicitingtestimony, destroyed the lives of the children involved. Jesse hasbeen fighting not only to prove his innocence, but also to try andbring healing to those who have grown up believing they were sexuallyabused, when indeed they never were.
As a result of Jesse’s conviction we live under the oppression andrestrictions of Megan’s Law. There is no way to explain howdehumanizing and difficult this is. One example is a fear of reprisalfrom law enforcement, as well as the community, if we were to become parents.We live our life, always with a cloud of fear. This new chance forjustice not only gives us an opportunity to shed a light on the truth,it also gives us the small and tender hope that we may someday livenormal, simple lives.
Before I married Jesse, I knew our lives would be difficult, but Imarried him anyway. Even though it meant giving up on some things Ihold so completely dear (like my hopes of being a mother). I love himthat much. I love him more than I ever thought I could love at all.
We are overjoyed with having won a hearing, but we are also in shock:happy, terrified, wonderful immense shock.
I think perhaps one of the largest concerns is money, and the lackthere of. Jesse and I keep thinking of Michael Moore’s movie “Sicko”with the story of the guy who looses his fingers on a table saw. Thedoctors tell him, “We can save the middle finger for $60,000 or thering finger $12,000.” That is how we feel. I don’t know if peoplerealize that justice goes for a high price, and that indeed a lack ofmoney often means a lack of justice.
As of now, where we stand, there is pretty much nothing left to paythe lawyers. The money Jesse got from his father’s life insuranceclaim has long since evaporated in legal bills. This appeal was onlypossible because of a generous team of people donating time, money,support, and effort, most specifically Andrew Jarecki (the director ofCapturing the Friedmans) without whom there would have been no movie,and no appeal. It would no longer be fair to expect so much more fromAndrew for he has already given so much and continues to be awonderful friend.
Our lawyer, Ron Kuby, knew of our meager funding. While Mr. Kuby neveragreed to working pro bono, he did agree to do what he could with whatwas available, and he has done some outstanding work. This past Marchwe got what we thought would be the last bill from Ron and there wasno money to pay him. Out of the goodness of his heart he agreed tokeep working on the case in good faith, agreeing to wait and see,knowing I would do what I could to eventually pay him for all hiswork.
Because of this wonderful turn of events this case now stands to besignificantly more expensive than we ever had funding for. It is nolonger Mr. Kuby working late into the night on his laptop with a pileof books. It’s now about hiring private investigators; tracking downwitnesses; finding experts on hypnosis; and full days in courtdeposing witnesses.
The thought of having to ask for money to help fund continue fightingthis case makes us feel terrible. It’s just not the kind of thing thatfeels good to anyone. Especially knowing there were those who havealready donated to the defense fund. At this point, we just don’t knowwhat else to do. There is really not much that I can say, just that,if it falls on your heart to give then please help, even if it’s only$5. If a thousand people could give $5 that can make a significantdifference. I also ask that if you can pray, please pray that we willbe able to go into this hearing with everything we need to see justiceprevail.
Donations made to the National Center for Reason and Justice, whosponsor Jesse’s case, are tax-deductible (as they are a 501(c)(3)organization). The NCRJ is an advocacy and issue-awareness groupdedicated to helping those much like Jesse. Donations can be made tothe NCRJ, allocated for Jesse Friedman, and mailed to:
National Center for Reason and Justice P.O. Box 230414 Boston MA02123-0414
Donations may also be made on-line via the Friedman Defense Fund.There is information and a link for Pay-Pal athttp://www.FriedmanDefenseFund.org. All that money will go to pay legalbills directly.
My mother once told me that people bow down to God because the weightof the world crushes them, not because they are particularlysubmissive. That is how it has always been with me. When my world getstoo heavy I bow down, because I can’t always carry my heart when itgets so heavy. Jesse on the other hand has always had a mind-bogglingreservoir of strength. He carries the immense weight of theseinjustices with his head up, heart strong, one foot in front of theother, and none of this has been able to bring him down. This pastweek I have seen him bow down, not because he was crushed, but becausehe was in awe. He is in awe of seeing even just a chance of justice inhis life, and that is significant because justice and freedom arethings most of us take for granted.
Keep your eyes on the media, and check-in with Jesse’s website forupdates and breakthroughs in the case.
Thank you so much for your support. Your kind letters have been awonderful influence on our lives.