Acting Gov. Jane Swift faces one of the most difficult decisions of her brief term in office with
the legal hot potato tossed to her by the state Parole Board in its recommendation
to commute the sentence of Gerald "Tooky" Amirault.
The Massachusetts Parole Board appropriately has recommended commuting the sentence of Gerald Amirault, convicted in the Fells Acres child molestation case of the mid-1980s.
Appearing before the Parole Board in September, Mr. Amirault argued persuasively that he was sentenced unfairly compared to his co-defendants, his mother, Violet Amirault, and his sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, and others convicted of similar offenses. In its recommendation to the governor, the Parole Board agreed.
Mr. Amirualt's case cries out for justice. He was convicted solely on the basis of videotaped testimony from children, ages 2 to 4, in the Amiraults' day care center -- testimony likely tainted by prejudicial questioning by parents and/or investigators. Prosecutors presented no evidence that sexual assaults even occurred, nor did they present testimony or physical evidence to corroborate the preposterous tales of evil clowns, animal sacrifices and other incredible happenings recounted by the Fells Acres children.
The Amiraults were convicted at the height of a nationwide hysteria over child molestation in day care facilities. Since then much has been learned about "recovered memory" and proper investigative procedures in such cases.
It is certainly clear that Mr. Amirault was not treated equally to his mother or sister. His sentence of 30 to 40 years far exceeded the 8- to 20-year sentence both women received.
His appeals were turned down three times. But those of his mother, who died in 1997, and his sister -- both convicted in a separate trial on the basis of the same evidence -- were upheld. The two women were released on appeal in 1995.
In 1999, Mrs. LeFave's sentence was commuted to time served. Her brother, who had no prior record and who has been a model prisoner during his 15 years of incarceration, should receive the same consideration.
Unless some new, compelling evidence against Mr. Amirault can be found, Gov. Jane M. Swift and the Governor's Council should accept the recommendation promptly and commute the sentence to time served.