Nassau DA taps Barry Scheck for Friedman Panel

Alfonso A. Castillo, Newsday, November 8, 2010

Nassau County Monday unveiled the team tasked with reviewing the case of Jesse Friedman, the convicted child molester who has maintained his innocence since shortly after pleading guilty 22 years ago. And among those on the list is one well-known advocate for the wrongly accused.

Barry Scheck, founder of the Manhattan-based Innocence Project, has agreed to be part of a four-member independent panel of legal and social science experts put together by Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice to oversee a review by her office into Friedman’s case.

Scheck said it was the panel’s responsibility to give Rice’s office their best expert advice.

“I feel privileged to have the opportunity to participate in this good idea,” he said.

The other members of the panel are former NYPD chief Patrick J. Harnett; Pace University criminal justice professor and former head of the National Center for Victims of Crime Susan Herman; and well-known trial lawyer Mark F. Pomerantz, who is a partner in the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison Llp.

Friedman, now 41, and his father, Arnold, admitted in 1988 to sexually abusing more than a dozen young boys in the basement of their Great Neck home. Arnold Friedman killed himself in prison in 1995.

Despite his guilty plea, the younger Friedman has maintained his innocence, including in the 2003 Academy Award-nominated documentary “Capturing the Friedmans.”

In August, a federal appeals court urged prosecutors to reopen Friedman’s case, saying that Friedman, who was released from prison in 2001, may have been wrongfully convicted. The decision cited “overzealousness” by law enforcement officials swept up in the “hysteria” over child molestation in the 1980s.

Rice said Monday that the “unique” plan of having an independent panel oversee her office’s work was meant to ensure the transparency of the review. The panel will meet regularly with her team, which she said does not include anyone involved in the original investigation and prosecution of the case.

“I don’t have a dog in this fight, so to speak. It was not an investigation that was done during my administration,” Rice said. “I think that’s going to allow for an objectivity that is absolutely essential in this instance.”

Friedman’s defense attorney, Ronald Kuby, of Manhattan, said that while he was originally skeptical of Rice’s intentions, the team she put together suggests Friedman’s case will get a fair and thorough look.

“It’s a panel that is distinguished and would not be a rubber stamp for anyone’s agenda,” he said. “From the perspective of a defendant looking for justice, it really could not be better.”

Scheck is well-known for helping exonerate or overturn the convictions of several high-profile defendants, including Martin Tankleff, whose 1988 conviction for murdering his parents was overturned, and the three men originally convicted in the 1985 Lynbrook rape and murder of Theresa Fusco, who were exonerated by DNA evidence after serving 18 years in prison.

Scheck also served on O.J. Simpson’s defense team, which won an acquittal in the infamous murder case.

Harnett, a 33-year veteran of the NYPD and a former chief of the Hartford, Conn., police department, said he does not know much about the Friedman case, although he did watch the film. He said he has no preconceived notions of the case.

“I think we’ve got a pretty good panel here of people who are committed to justice and calling it as we see it correctly,” Harnett said.

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