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
"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
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
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
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.
Governor Jane M. Swift
Boston, MA 02133
Phone: (617) 727-6250
Fax: (617) 727-9725
For more extensive information, see the CLT "Free Gerald
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
Amirault's wife, Patti, said she and her daughters got the
news of the Parole Board decision by cellphone yesterday while shopping at
"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
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 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
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
"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 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
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
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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