At the height of the 1980's child abuse hysteria, two men - a father and son - were charged with molestation. Eventually, they both pleaded guilty and were sent to prison for lengthy terms, where the father died. The son was eventually released on parole.
This much seems undisputed. Everything else, however, rivals any dramatic saga you care to reference. And it was all caught on camera.
Much of the family video that captured the disintegration of the Friedman family ended up in a docu-drama, Capturing the Friedmans, which brings up some very troubling questions about the case against the Friedmans.
Jesse Friedman, the son, has never stopped protesting his innocence. And the last judge to look at his case made a strongly-worded recommendation that the prosecution re-open the case and take another look at the believability (or lack thereof) of the allegations against Jesse.
Now the report from that second look is out, and it's not favorable to Jesse.
Having watched the documentary, I believe there were some serious issues with Jesse's case -- and probably with Arnold's, too. What's clear from the record is that the allegations are fantastical, and the questioning of the child witnesses was deeply flawed. (For evidence of this, check out the detective's assertion at 1:19:00 or thereabouts - that when interviewing young alleged victims of abuse, you "give them no option" - that you actually provide them with the answer. This runs absolutely counter to every best practices advice on interviewing children in abuse cases.)
Complicating the matter is the undisputed fact that Arnie was almost certainly a pedophile -- meaning that he was sexually attracted to young children (in this case, boys). He first came across governmental radar when a piece of child pornography addressed to him was intercepted by the post office. He's certainly not a sympathetic figure, objectively speaking.
But did he commit the acts he was accused of? I have serious doubts.
But don't just accept my word for it - take a look at the evidence and the documentary yourself, and make up your own mind. Other writers have also commented on the dearth of evidence against the Friedmans - for instance, in this Slate article.
Capturing the Friedmans isn't available for streaming on Netflix but is available at Amazon's Instant Video for $9.99. CAUTION: This is most definitely not an appropriate film for all audiences, due to very sensitive subject matter and quite a bit of profanity (as one would expect in such a situation). The film is unflinching when it comes to dealing with the factual allegations, as well, which may be disturbing to many.