Man Granted New Trial in Child Sexual Abuse Case
By ALAN FEUER
Published: August 13, 2013
A federal judge this week threw out the conviction of a 66-year-old Long Island man found guilty in 2008 of molesting his granddaughter and two of her friends after defense lawyers investigated a serial number on the back of a photograph that refuted a key portion of the prosecution’s case.
Judge Arthur D. Spatt of Federal District Court in Central Islip, N.Y., ruled on Monday, after five years of litigation in three different courts, that the convicted man, Thomas F. Green of Selden, had been deprived of a fair trial because of ineffective assistance by his lawyer at the time. In a 44-page order, Judge Spatt wrote that the evidence introduced by prosecutors at Mr. Green’s trial in Suffolk County had been poorly investigated by Mr. Green’s defense lawyer and sent the case back to the state court for a new trial.
Mr. Green, a construction contractor, was initially accused of molesting his granddaughter when she was 7 years old, along with four of her friends, each of whom was younger than 10 when the abuse was said to have begun. According to the prosecution, the abuse began in 1998 and continued intermittently for the next few years at Mr. Green’s home during sleepovers and outside the home at local eateries like a Carvel ice cream shop.
The main witness for the prosecution, one of the four friends, identified as B.M., said that she had waited until 2006 to accuse Mr. Green, in part, because she had learned from watching the television show “Law & Order: SVU” that appearing in court was “a big responsibility,” especially for a young girl, according to court records. She said not only that had Mr. Green abused her, but also that she was present when he tried to molest his granddaughter.
Although Mr. Green’s granddaughter testified that she herself had not been abused — and, in fact, had not known the other girls until at least 2000 — the prosecution introduced evidence corroborating B.M.’s account, including two photographs. One was of the granddaughter and B.M. sitting on Mr. Green’s front porch in Halloween costumes and was said to have been taken in October 1998. The other was of the two at Coney Island, and was still housed in a souvenir frame bearing the date June 1998.
The friend, in her testimony, said Mr. Green had given her an educational toy she called a Turbo Twister Speller as a gift in 1999.
In his own turn on the stand, Mr. Green denied having abused any of the girls, adding that he did not understand why they had accused him and “was sorry that they felt this way.” He testified that B.M. was a “hypersexual” girl whom he had once caught masturbating at an early age. He denied having known any of the girls before 2000, but was convicted of sexually abusing the main witness and another friend, and of the attempted sodomy of his granddaughter.
After his conviction, Mr. Green hired Ronald L. Kuby, the well-known Manhattan defense lawyer who for years has been trying to exonerate another defendant, Jesse Friedman, in another child sexual abuse case on Long Island. Mr. Kuby in turn hired a private detective, Jay Salpeter, who within a few months’ time — and “with very little effort,” as Judge Spatt noted — made a few discoveries that upended the case.
First, Mr. Salpeter found a serial number on the back of the Coney Island photo and learned from Polaroid, which manufactured the film, that it had been taken in 2000, despite B.M.’s testimony and the date on the souvenir frame. In the Halloween photo, one of the girls was wearing a sweatshirt with a logo reading “Princess University.” Mr. Salpeter determined that the brand had not been trademarked until 2000.
Moreover, Mr. Salpeter figured out that the educational toy, Turbo Twister Spelling, was not produced until at least a year after B.M. had claimed to have received one from Mr. Green. He finally determined, with a simple phone call to the show’s producers, that “Law & Order: SVU” was not on the air when B.M. claimed to have seen it.
In its own appellate filing, the Suffolk County district attorney’s office acknowledged that some of the evidence it had introduced at trial was misdated or erroneous, but said that did not mean Mr. Green had had ineffective counsel at his trial, and that it did not prove his innocence. A state appeals court agreed, but that decision was effectively overturned by the federal court ruling on Monday.
Bob Clifford, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said the decision was being reviewed by the office’s appellate bureau and that a decision as to how to proceed would be made in the next few weeks.
Mr. Green, meanwhile, remains in prison, in the fourth year of a 35-year sentence, “but he is packed,” Mr. Kuby said.
“Sometimes the process is long, excruciating and filled with defeat until someone in a black robe finally pays attention,” Mr. Kuby said on Tuesday. “It shouldn’t have taken this long and a lot of people who should have known better didn’t do anything about it.”