CHARLESTON - Edgar Friedrich is serving life without parole at the Southern Regional Jail, convicted of first-degree murder in the 1997 death of 12-year-old Jeremy Bell as well as several other counts of sexual abuse.
Larry Coon, one of Friedrich's alleged victims, says he tried to forget what happened to him as a middle-school student in Fayette County. But when private investigators showed up at his house in 2005, the memories unwillingly came streaming back.
Now Coon and wife Rachel have filed suit against the education organizations they perceive as being at fault for allowing Friedrich to become principal at his school years ago.
"Shortly after being visited by the investigators looking into Mr. Friedrichs' long history of molesting students, Plaintiff Larry Coon remembered the molestation and assault, in part, and became suicidal and required hospitalization for his depression," says a complaint filed Oct. 30 in Kanawha Circuit Court.
The Coons blame the Fayette County Board of Education, West Virginia Board of Education, Pennsylvania Board of Education and Interboro School District in Pennsylvania. Those four entities, the suit insists, allowed a man with several child sexual abuse complaints filed against him to get a job in a school.
Friedrich, the complaint says, worked in the Interboro School District for nine years until he was fired because of sexual misconduct against students. However, both the district and Pennsylvania Board of Education helped perpetuate letters of recommendation written by employees at Prospect Park Elementary School to be sent to Fayette County when Friedrichs was relocating, it adds.
Arriving in Fayette County in 1975, Friedrichs eventually worked at five different schools. In 1997, Bell died while spending a weekend at Friedrichs' cabin. His former teacher insisted Bell's death was an accident, a story that stood up for several years.
In November 2001, Friedrichs was indicted on charges of sexual molestation. A few months later, he was convicted and sentenced to 30-65 years in prison. It wasn't long after that that he was charged with Bell's murder, and he was convicted in August 2005.
During a May 2005 visit from investigators, Coon began to remember his own molestation at the hands of Friedrichs, the suit says. Though it happened well before the two-year statute of limitations, Charleston attorney Anne Shaffer doesn't see that as a problem for her clients.
"It's called the 'Discovery Rule,'" she explained. "The Discovery Rule is an exception to the statute of limitations. It actually tolls the statute of limitations."
She says the statute's time frame began in May 2005 when Coon first started remembering the alleged events. Before that, she said, his mind dealt with the trauma by hiding the memories.
Shaffer added that defense attorneys will be sure to point out the inexact science of proving when a suppressed memory comes back to a person.
"I'm sure they will raise that," she said. "I think there will be expert testimony that will talk about the nature of sexual abuse and how these boys repress it. Their mind essentially compartmentalizes it then shuts it off, because it's too painful, until a triggering event. The investigators showing up at his house and asking him about this man was that event."
She also anticipated citing a rule that says the statute of limitations is not applicable in cases where defendants attempt to hide the truth, like the Pennsylvania defendants are accused of doing.
Friedrichs is not listed as a defendant in the case.
"This is strictly against the people who hid this and exposed my client to the dangers of this man," Shaffer said.
"All defendants breached such duty by failing to warn or protect the Plaintiff Larry Coon from the sexual misconduct of Edgar Friedrichs and by exposing him to a person known to have dangerous propensities," the complaint says.
The complaint charges the defendants with negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress and also makes a claim for loss of consortium and punitive damages.
Judge Charles King has been assigned the case.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number 06-C-2290