Re-'Capturing the Friedmans': Convicted Child Molester Still Fighting to Clear His Name

PHOTO: Jesse Friedman
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Jesse Friedman spent 13 years in prison for committing horrific sexual crimes against young children, and while he pled guilty at the time, he claims he is actually innocent.

Twenty-five years ago, when Friedman was 19, he pled guilty to 25 counts of abuse. The victims who came forward were young boys, generally about 10 years old, who had all attended a computer class run by Friedman's father, Arnold Friedman, at the family's home in Great Neck, N.Y.

Today, at age 44, Jesse Friedman has been out of prison for 12 years, but he is fighting to clear his name. In an interview with "Nightline," Friedman said he never committed those crimes.

"I never sexually assaulted any child ever," he said. "I never touched a child in an inappropriate way. I never harmed a child. I never molested a child. I never sexually abused a child. I never sodomized a child."

The investigation into the Friedmans began in 1987 when Arnold Friedman was caught ordering a child pornography magazine through the mail. The married father of three later admitted he was sexually attracted to teenage boys, but denied having molested any of the boys in his computer classes.

At the time, Arnold Friedman was a well-respected teacher and his computer classes were popular. His son Jesse was his assistant.

By the end of the investigation, more than a dozen boys had come forward, alleging a list of horrific sex crimes, including sexualized games.

Detective Fran Galasso, who was head of the sex crimes unit in Nassau County at the time, said the abuse was just a "free-for-all" and the boys were forced to participate in "mass games" in the classroom.

Eight months into the investigation, Ross Goldstein, a teenage friend of Jesse's, who also occasionally helped in the class, was arrested and charged with over 300 sexual crimes against the children.

In addition to the children who testified in front of the grand jury, Goldstein accepted a deal to testify against Jesse and Arnold Friedman in exchange for six months in prison.

"There were 243 charges against me," Jesse Friedman said. "There was possibly going to be 14 child witnesses, plus the state's witness, who took the deal and testified against me."

And then his father pled guilty too.

"Now I had two co-defendants who had both already confessed, and I was the only person standing up and saying, 'These things never happened,'" Friedman said. "I couldn't get support from my lawyer. My lawyer's position was, basically, 'It doesn't really matter if you're innocent or guilty. There's no way you can win the trial.'"

Jesse Friedman said his mother urged him to plead guilty, fearing that if he went to trial, he would die in prison.

"I was told if he went to trial, the judge would give three consecutive sentences," Elaine Friedman said. "Instead of concurrent, the sentencing would be consecutive. I said, 'Oh my God.'"

Jesse Friedman said by this point he was convinced no jury would ever believe him. The news had been saturated with the story and the community was up in arms over it.

In December 1998, Jesse Friedman went to court and pled guilty, saying he too was one of this father's victims. He now says none of it was true. Friedman said he lied about his guilt because he felt he didn't have a choice.

"I was 18 years old. My father and I are collectively charged with hundreds of counts. The police assured, through misinformation, through lying, through the pressure of the press, the threats of the judge, that there would be no chance of defense witnesses at the trial," he said.

Arnold Friedman ultimately died while serving his prison sentence. Jesse Friedman was released from prison in December 2001.

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