A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: West Memphis Three

“Capturing” My Hometown

By Noah Forrest

Jesse Friedman is a convicted child molester.  And he wants your sympathy.

I hadn’t heard about Arnold Friedman’s pedophilic sexual molestation scandal that rocked Great Neck, Long Island in the mid-80s until I learned of Andrew Jarecki’s film, “Capturing the Friedmans.”  That might not be that surprising, considering most people likely knew about the scandal from the film, if at all.  But there was one crucial difference between most people and me…

I’m from Great Neck.   My house was a few minutes walk from the Friedmans.

A little background: Arnold Friedman was an award-winning high school science teacher who also taught a computer class for elementary schoolers in the basement of his home.  After a sting operation by the Nassau County Police Department, Arnold was caught with magazines depicting child pornography.  The police investigated, and then interrogated the computer students.  Several of the students reported sexual abuse at the classes, with both Arnold and his youngest son, 17-year-old Jesse, as perpetrators.

Arnold pled guilty and committed suicide in prison in 1995.  At a time when the McMartin trial was splashed on the front pages of every newspaper, Jesse was told by Judge Abbey Boklan that she would pursue the maximum sentence allowable under law – consecutive, rather than concurrent sentences for each count – and Jesse accepted a plea deal that put him in prison for 13 years.

A little about Great Neck: my hometown is a perfectly fine suburban community that’s overwhelmingly homogeneous. Practically everybody in my town is Jewish; the majority are fairly wealthy.  This has made Great Neck a popular target for a media only too happy to report on things like, say, a kid who helped others cheat on their SATs.  Or, perhaps, a television show devoted to stereotypes about rich Jews.

Typical of Great Neck at the time of the Friedman scandal was that nobody talked about it.  It was a place where things got swept under the rug or ignored., so that the town could maintain its picture postcard image of perfection.  But I suppose that’s true of most wealthy suburban communities.

Personally, I couldn’t wait to leave.  And now that my family has moved, I see no reason to go back.

A little about Jesse Friedman: despite the heinous crimes he’s accused of, despite the film’s inconclusive stance about his involvement in (possible) abuse, despite his having gone on record (in court and on “Geraldo”) to say that he was sexually abused by his own father, despite the fact that he pled guilty…he wants the court to set aside his conviction.

Jesse has had ace criminal defense and civil rights lawyer Ron Kuby on the case for the last decade. Mr. Kuby is trying to get a court to permit Jesse to have a normal life that doesn’t require him to register as a sex offender, on the grounds that he never committed any sex offenses.

On November 7, the LASIS newsroom was treated to a brand new evidence reel crafted by Mr. Jarecki , originally made to persuade the Nassau County District Attorney’s office – in the midst of a reinvestigation into the case – of Jesse’s innocence.  Public relations guru Lonnie Soury, a man whose tireless work helped free the wrongfully convicted West Memphis Three, screened the reel for us, and stayed on to answer our questions.

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