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Parole Board votes unanimously
to commute Gerald Amirault's sentence

A message from Barbara Anderson
Saturday, July 7, 2001


"These were all career-making cases for the prosecutors, brought about in an atmosphere of parental hysteria and big headlines instead of dispassion and prosecutorial integrity," said Kimberly Hart, executive director of the National Child Abuse Defense Resource Center in Philadelphia.

"All the while, in the background," she said, "groundbreaking scientific research was under way on the suggestibility of child witnesses, how they could be led to believe in things that had not happened. But when all that data came out, prosecutors could not admit how wrong they had gone."...

Two high-profile Democrats, former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger and current Attorney General Thomas Reilly, helped lead the prosecution. Harshbarger was Middlesex DA and Reilly was his top assistant....

The decision, signed Tuesday and released yesterday, was assailed by the office of Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley, which vehemently objected to any commutation of Amirault's sentence during his parole hearing in September....

Since his conviction, Amirault, 47, has never wavered from his insistence of innocence.

[excerpts from today's news reports, below]


We don't yet know if we can save the world. But we can, right now, right one injustice.

For the past several years - since an outraged Chip Faulkner brought a Dorothy Rabinowitz column from the Wall Street Journal to my attention -- the CLT staff has been actively involved in seeking justice for the Amirault family.

Our tax dollars were used to fund the 20th Century version of the Massachusetts witch trials. Our "big government" brought its full weight to bear on an innocent family.

They are still being used to hold Gerry Amirault in prison, and to fund the offices of the state Attorney General and the Middlesex DA, whose politicians refuse to admit they made a terrible mistake.

If you have not been following this case, you can find a wealth of information about it on our website [see link below], which includes the several columns I have written explaining my personal involvement.

There are two things you can do to help right this wrong:

1.  Contact Governor Swift and state your support for Gerry Amirault. I think she will do the right thing, but it will help enormously if she can show a groundswell of support from people like us.

2.  Once she supports commutation, CLT will list the Governor's Councilors and we can all contact ours to express support for the Governor's decision.

Rarely will you be able to do so much good for the cause of justice with such a small amount of effort. Please e-mail or write to Governor Swift today, or call the Governor's office on Monday. Give your name and express your confidence that she will do the right thing.

Thank you for caring about justice.

Sincerely,
Barbara Anderson


Contact Information:

Governor Jane M. Swift
Room 360
State House
Boston, MA 02133

Phone: (617) 727-6250
Fax: (617) 727-9725 

E-mail: GOffice@state.ma.us


For more extensive information, see the CLT "Free Gerald Amirault" page.


The Boston Herald
Saturday, July 7, 2001

'Free Tooky': Parole board votes to commute sentence
by Joe Battenfeld and Ellen J. Silberman

The state Parole Board, in a sharply-worded decision, yesterday recommended commuting the sentence of notorious child sex abuser Gerald "Tooky" Amirault -- putting the highly-charged case in the hands of acting Gov. Jane Swift.

The board, in a 5-0 vote, said in unusually strong language there was "real and substantial doubt" as to Amirault's guilt because of a lack of physical evidence.

Keeping him in prison any longer would "constitute gross unfairness," its members said, because his co-defendant and sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, had her sentence reduced to time served in 1999.

The recommendation to release Amirault, who was sentenced to 30-40 years in prison in 1986 for molesting and raping eight children at his family's Fells Acres day care center, now goes to Swift, who faces her first major decision since taking office in April.

A mother of one of the child victims in the case, who asked not to be named, said in an interview yesterday she was "shocked" at the Parole Board's action and urged Swift, who gave birth to twin girls in May, to keep Amirault in jail.

"I would really hope that some of her motherly instincts would kick in," the woman said. She said if she had the chance to talk to Swift one-on-one, "I would tell her in detail what happened" to her son.

Amirault, LeFave and their late mother, Violet, were convicted after more than 40 children told graphic stories of being fondled, tied to trees and sexually penetrated by knives. They also testified about a "bad clown" -- allegedly Gerald Amirault -- who tortured them in a "secret room."

Amirault's wife, Patti, said she and her daughters got the news of the Parole Board decision by cellphone yesterday while shopping at Filene's.

"We screamed and ran to the parking lot," she said. "We know there are hurdles ahead of us, but we've never given up hope and we never will.... Today is just incredibly rewarding to us."

She spoke with her husband yesterday afternoon and said, "He's ecstatic at this news but realizes what is ahead of him. He's not out yet. We've been up and down on a roller coaster before. It feels good, but until he's home we're not there yet."

His daughter, Gerilyn, who just graduated from St. Anselm College as her father sat in jail, said, "I feel like I have to put on my cap and gown and graduate for him again."

The Parole Board, appointed by the governor, ruled that Amirault was unfairly denied a chance to reduce his sentence because his lawyer missed a deadline for filing an appeal.

"In the end, this is a case of simple, fundamental fairness," the board wrote.

But the board went far beyond ruling on the fairness of Amirault's sentence, saying numerous questions have been raised about his guilt since his conviction.

"It is clearly a matter of public knowledge that, at the minimum, real and substantial doubt exists concerning (Amirault's) conviction," the board wrote.

The board added that the infamous case against the Amiraults "contained little in the way of physical evidence to corroborate in some instances extraordinary, if not bizarre allegations" against them.

Aides to Swift, who is vacationing on Cape Cod, said it could be weeks or months before her legal office reviews the decision.

"She will take the time necessary to make a decision when she feels she is ready to do so," Swift spokesman Jason Kauppi said. "She is not predisposed on this case. She has an open mind and is willing to consider both sides of the matter."

If Swift agrees to commute Amirault's sentence, the Governor's Council then must vote on the recommendation.

The board's ruling came 10 months after it held a hearing on Amirault's plea for clemency.

Two high-profile Democrats, former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger and current Attorney General Thomas Reilly, helped lead the prosecution. Harshbarger was Middlesex DA and Reilly was his top assistant. Both declined comment yesterday.

The Amirault family's supporters claim the children's allegations were fabricated with the help of overzealous prosecutors. The defendants also were denied the chance to face their accusers during trial.

In its 24-page ruling, the Parole Board said the record of the case was "replete with inconsistent and conflicting judicial opinions concerning whether justice was done. Even the District Attorney has acknowledged that flawed interviewing procedures were employed in interviewing the victims."

The board also noted that a juror wrote recently expressing "doubt and regret" over the verdict, and said that Amirault "enjoys extraordinary family and community support including his wife and children who have persevered with success while maintaining contact with their father while in prison."

Through a spokesman, a "disappointed" Middlesex County District Attorney Martha Coakley said she hopes "the voices of the victims will be heard."

The board, however, noted that prosecutors did not oppose the court's decision to reduce the sentence of LaFave, who served eight years of her 8- to 20-year sentence.

"While executive clemency should never, of course, be simply a response to public clamor ... where, as here, the record of a case raises real and substantial doubt the entire record of the case should be given careful consideration," the board wrote.

Two of the five board members who voted in favor of commutation wrote a separate opinion recommending Amirault undergo mandatory sex offender treatment if he is released. Amirault has refused sex offender treatment because he maintains his innocence.

One board member, Doris A. Dottridge, abstained because she was not on the board when it held a hearing on Amirault's petition last September.

Jules Crittenden contributed to this report.


The Boston Herald
Saturday, July 7, 2001

Amirault's commutation would close chapter of '80s spate
of child-abuse prosecutions

Analysis/by Tom Mashberg

The Fells Acres Day School child-abuse case is the last of more than 30 such prosecutions from the 1980s, most of the others formally discredited, in which an accused person remains in jail.

If Gerald "Tooky" Amirault gains his freedom as a result of yesterday's state Parole Board recommendation, experts say, it will be a welcome outcome for a case fraught with legal procedures -- chief among them the relentless and suggestive questioning of preschool children - that have been shunned by courts for a decade.

"These were all career-making cases for the prosecutors, brought about in an atmosphere of parental hysteria and big headlines instead of dispassion and prosecutorial integrity," said Kimberly Hart, executive director of the National Child Abuse Defense Resource Center in Philadelphia.

"All the while, in the background," she said, "groundbreaking scientific research was under way on the suggestibility of child witnesses, how they could be led to believe in things that had not happened. But when all that data came out, prosecutors could not admit how wrong they had gone."

As the Parole Board noted in its 5-0 decision yesterday (with one abstention), pardoning Amirault, 46, is not merely about guaranteeing him the same technical rights as those granted his already-paroled sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, 48. The board went further, stating that "real and substantial doubt exists" over Amirault's 1986 conviction.

The board cited the lack of physical evidence of child abuse and the flawed interview techniques used by Middlesex County prosecutors and investigators. It wrote: "These and like flaws in the investigative procedures in similar cases elsewhere in the nation have since led to the discrediting of some of those convictions."

The litany of discredited episodes into which the Fells Acres case could fall is indeed long and harrowing, even to those who make prosecuting real abuse a life's work. Historians are already asking what combination of fear and frenzy had law enforcement and the public so convinced day-care centers from coast to coast were freakish havens for molesters. A short roster of the most notorious cases includes:

  • In 1984, seven people were charged with abusing children at the McMartin Preschool in suburban Los Angeles. Some accused spent years in jail, until a judge dismissed charges that 369 children were photographed naked in catacombs under the school.

  • In 1984, New York prosecutor Mario Merola won five cases involving sex abuse of children in day-care centers in the Bronx. All cases were overturned. In 1996, Rev. Nathaniel Grady was the last of the five to be freed after 13 appeals and 10 years in jail.

  • In 1986, Grant Snowden was convicted of abusing two children at his wife's home day-care center in Miami. After 12 years in prison, his conviction was overturned.

  • In Maplewood, N.J., in 1988, preschool teacher Margaret Kelly Michaels was convicted of 100 counts of sexual abuse, including "nude pileups" and nude photo sessions with children at the Wee Care Day School. Her conviction was overturned in 1994, after she spent six years in prison. The New Jersey Supreme Court condemned investigators for launching "a witchhunt" and improperly interviewing the small children.

  • In 1992, Robert F. Kelly and Kathryn Dawn Wilson of the Little Rascals day care in Edenton, N.C., were convicted and given 12 life terms after they were convicted of molesting dozens of children and taking nude photos of them in 1988. They were both freed in 1996 by an appeals court.

"This was all very ideological," explained Jack Levin, professor of criminology at Northeastern University. "It wasn't based on research, but on this burning desire to 'protect' children from abuse.

"One of the mottos of the day was that kids don't lie about sexual abuse. That wasn't based on data or research but on ideology. It was an absolute statement that was bound to be disproven. When you make statements like that, you set yourself up for defeat."


The Boston Globe
Saturday, July 7, 2001

State panel votes to free Amirault
Parole board rules issue is one of 'fairness'
By Brian MacQuarrie
Globe Staff

The Massachusetts Parole Board has unanimously recommended that Gerald "Tooky" Amirault's sentence be commuted to the nearly 15 years he has spent imprisoned following one of the nation's most notorious cases of child sexual abuse.

The board's 5-0 decision, based on what members called an issue of "fundamental fairness," could free Amirault within the next few weeks if Acting Governor Jane Swift and the Governor's Council approve the rare recommendation.

Since his conviction, Amirault, 47, has never wavered from his insistence of innocence. "That was never a possibility," his attorney, James Sultan, said yesterday.

Although he lost three appeals of his conviction, Amirault succeeded in his first appearance before the Parole Board, which held a tense, emotional hearing in September.

In reaching its decision, the board compared Amirault's 30-to- 40-year sentence with the 8-to-20-year sentences ordered for Amirault's mother and sister, who were convicted of similar child rape and abuse at the family's Fells Acres Day Care Center in Malden.

Gerald Amirault "has demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that his further incarceration would constitute gross unfairness, because of ... the severity of sentence in comparison to the sentence(s) received by co-defendants," the board wrote.

And, in extraordinary language, three members of the board referred to persistent questions about whether the defendants received a fair trial.

Although the parole officials stressed that their decision did not consider Amirault's guilt or innocence, they added: "It is clearly a matter of public knowledge that, at the minimum, real and substantial doubt exists concerning [the] petitioner's conviction."

Amirault was convicted in 1986 for his role in what prosecutors described as "horrifying acts of abuse" at the family's day care facility. Amirault was found guilty of eight counts of child rape and seven counts of indecent assault and battery.

His sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, and their mother, Violet Amirault, were convicted in 1987 of three and two rapes of a child, respectively. LeFave and Violet Amirault, who died in 1997, were released on appeal in 1995. LeFave's sentence was ordered reduced to time served in 1999.

"We believed in his innocence all along," Gerald Amirault's wife, Patti, said yesterday. "It feels good, but until we have him home, we're not there yet."

"The measure of a criminal justice system is its capacity to correct errors and rectify injustices when they occur," Sultan said at a press conference yesterday. "In this case, the courts failed Gerald Amirault. Fortunately, there was another avenue available to him -- executive clemency. Today, after 15 years of imprisonment, Gerald has taken a giant step on that road to freedom."

Swift's spokesman, Jason Kauppi, said the governor will not rush to judgment on the recommendation.

The governor "will take whatever time is necessary," Kauppi said. "This is a very complicated case with very strong opinions on both sides."

The decision, signed Tuesday and released yesterday, was assailed by the office of Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley, which vehemently objected to any commutation of Amirault's sentence during his parole hearing in September.

"We're disappointed in the decision," said Anson Kaye, Coakley's spokesman. "We believed the sentence was fair and appropriate, and we continue to believe that."

Kaye said Coakley will continue to advocate for the victims as Swift weighs the parole board's recommendation.

"Our objective through this process has been to ensure that the voices of the victims are heard," Kaye said. "As this process continues, ultimately that's what we hope will happen."

The mother of one Fells Acres victim said she is devastated that Amirault, who plans to live in Malden with his wife and three children if released, could rejoin the community.

"I just really feel bad that these kids are going to see this man around town," the woman said. "I know the next couple of weeks are going to be terrible in this house."

At trial, the young victims told horrific tales of abuse. Three of the nine children who testified against Gerald Amirault said they ate food off his penis; seven testified that he forced them to sodomize him; and all nine testified to either anal, oral, or vaginal penetration by him.

Nearly every child also testified that the Amiraults threatened them or their parents with physical harm if they spoke of the abuse.

However, the investigation and prosecution of the case prompted a wide range of criticism in the tumultuous subsequent years of multiple appeals and conflicting court orders. The board's decision reflected that uncertainty.

"Even the office of the district attorney has acknowledged that flawed interviewing procedures were employed" to question the children, three board members wrote. By all accounts, the members continued, the case "contained relatively little in the way of physical evidence to corroborate in some instances extraordinary, if not bizarre, allegations.

"These and like flaws in the investigative procedures in similar cases elsewhere in the nation have since led to the discrediting of some of those convictions."

The three parole board members -- John P. Kivlan, Daniel M. Dewey, and Robert Murphy -- asked Swift to review the "entire record" of the case.

They noted that although the nine victims in Gerald Amirault's case outnumbered those in LeFave's conviction, Amirault served twice as much prison time as his sister, much of it in protective custody or separated from the general inmate population.

In a separate but concurring opinion, two parole board members stressed that their votes are "anchored on the premise that Mr. Amirault's convictions are lawful."

Their justification for commutation, wrote board chairman Michael J. Pomarole and Maureen E. Walsh, is centered on the "core reasoning," shared by the majority, that LeFave had an opportunity to request a reduction in her sentence that Amirault did not employ.

Globe correspondent Fran Riley contributed to this report.


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