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Uncapturing the Friedmans
He would do just a little more than a year, followed by five years of parole. In the quarter-century since, Goldstein has quietly pursued a career as a musician and artist in Troy, New York, recording under the name ROGO.
He never spoke publicly about the Friedman case and refused to cooperate with Jarecki. Over the years, he steadfastly ignored Jesse's attempts to contact him. (He also declined to speak with the Voice for this story.)
Friedman, whose own mother pressed him to take a plea, understands why Goldstein took a deal. "You can't sit trial as a co-defendant with this admitted child molester down the block."
But last year, Friedman finally reached him by phone. Goldstein was initially suspicious. Friedman assured him he held no ulterior motive. "I said, 'We should talk about stuff. We have this shared experience.'" They agreed to meet at a diner in Astoria.
"He brought his girlfriend along, Elisabeth came along, and we talked for hours at the diner," Friedman says. "We didn't talk about everything, but I think I was able to give Ross an opportunity to ask me some things."
Friedman didn't have all the answers, but it felt good just to meet again. "I think it was obvious to him where I was coming from, that I wasn't trying to get rich and famous, I wasn't trying to force him into some position where I needed him to say this, or I needed him to play some role and he was obligated to come forward and exonerate me."
They haven't spoken since. But last month, after decades of silence, Goldstein walked into the same D.A.'s office where he had been pressured to testify against his friend 25 years before. He told the review panel of how he'd been coerced into lying, how prosecutors coached him through details of the Friedmans' computer lab, which he'd never even seen, and how he was imprisoned for something he'd never done.
Sitting with his wife in their sun-dappled Bridgeport living room, Jesse Friedman looks tired. "Yesterday was a really bad day," he says. "I got up and ended up back in bed, then got up and ended up back in bed a second time."
Friedman manages to project a remarkably calm and centered demeanor most of the time. Intensive therapy has helped him manage the post-traumatic stress disorder borne of his time in prison.
But there are still days when it all feels like too much. It has been nearly three years since the Nassau County District Attorney began reviewing his conviction. For months investigators have told him that the report would be out "in two weeks," only to provide the same response two week later.
"He's holding his breath every time they say 'eight more days,'" Walsh says. "It gets to the point where you just say, 'Can I breathe for a minute?'"
The anxiety isn't just about whether the panel will vacate his conviction. "I know how much exonerating evidence has been presented to the D.A.'s office," Friedman says. "For Kathleen Rice to not find in favor of vacating the conviction, I can't even imagine the types of contortion she'd have to do with the truth in order to justify it."
If anything, Walsh says, her husband is afraid of what it will be like to finally be free.
"Jesse doesn't have any sense of what liberty feels like," she says. "He went from being a child in his parents' home to spending his twenties and early thirties in a prison cell where there's no civil liberties of any kind, five years on parole, with an ankle bracelet and no civil liberties and constant fear of a ridiculous situation, and then under oppressive Megan's Law as a Level 3 sex offender. He hasn't a clue what civil liberties feel like, what it feels like to decide what you want to do for a living, where you want to live, whether you want to be a parent, decide whether you can go to a sporting event or not. He has no sense of that. He has never experienced freedom. He and I have talked about this quite a bit: He doesn't know what he's going to feel."
Whatever he feels, Friedman knows he isn't the only one damaged by what happened in Great Neck 25 years ago.
"This isn't at all just about me," he says. "And it's not even just about me and the complainants. But it's about their parents, and all the guilt that they had to deal with, thinking they sent their children off into harm's way and didn't protect them."
For someone who lost 25 years of his life over a crime he likely didn't commit, Friedman maintains a disarming compassion for the people whose hysteria derailed his future.
That compassion doesn't extend to law enforcement, but it does give his quest for justice a broader foundation.
"The police hurt so many people and traumatized the entire community," he says. "A lot of times I sort of feel like I'm the last standing eyewitness to a horrible massacre. I'm the only one left to tell the tale, because I know that nobody was sexually abused in those computer classes. I was there."