Faced with the call to either pardon or keep in jail a convicted criminal, governors quake.
Usually, the matter is tangled up with politics and public opinion, making it risky to offer a
decision that comes from the best instincts for justice.
That's because the matter (shades of Willie Horton) could become a career buster. Political
enemies stand ready to unleash an assault on whatever decision is made. In short, it's a
no-win situation for the person who must act as judge.
Acting Gov. Jane Swift is facing such a choice, called upon to approve or deny the
recommended commutation of Gerald Amirault's sentence some 15 years after the Fells
Acre Day School sex abuse trials. Amirault has served all of those years in prison, while his
mother and sister -- charged similarly and found guilty as well -- were released in 1995 after
their convictions were overturned by Superior Court Judge Robert Barton.
Supporting Amirault's release is the state Parole Board, which last Friday publicly called for
the release, citing "fundamental fairness."
We agree, and urge acting Gov. Swift respond quickly to commute Amirault's sentence and
bring to an end a sorry chapter in the commonwealth's otherwise glorious judicial past.
There is a strong indication, upheld by several Superior Court judges, that the Fells Acre
trials were a miscarriage of justice. Serious holes remain in the prosecution's case against the
Amiraults -- including a lack of substantial physical evidence that anything occurred -- faults
that were ignored amid the hysteria of the trial setting. And, in the years since, one of the
jurors admitted to feeling the wrong decision was made and Amirault was railroaded into
prison on inadequate findings.
The facts don't hold up. And, despite the insistence of some now-grown victims that the
Amiraults did, in fact, commit sexual crimes against them, their 1980s convictions came from
an atmosphere charged by adult-influenced tales from four- and five-year-old children. The
children had been questioned in depth by counselors, and what they had to say would be
considered "fantastic" and unsubstantiated in today's courtrooms. The children's descriptions
of events at the day care center included robots that ate children, dismembered squirrels,
clowns that raped them. Remember, they were small children. They were easily influenced.
There were other, nonfamily members working at the center. No one saw anything happen,
despite the many and very noticeable activities the family was charged with. Children who
had been at the center before the alleged incidents did not come forward with any complaints
even after the charges were made public.
We can't say what the Amiraults did or did not do, and some of the children involved in the
allegations have suffered considerably from the trauma of what they remember and what they
went through as the charges were being investigated. But it's open to speculation whether the
damage done was actually caused by the Amiraults or the psychological science and clinical
investigatory techniques employed at the time. Most, like repressed memory syndrome, have
The entire situation remains very troubling.
All three Amiraults steadfastly refused to confess to any guilt, no matter how reduced in
scope, even to seek a prosecution "deal" for their own release. They have denied it all and
stuck by each other. The subsequent trials lacked credibility, an opinion judges upheld in
releasing Gerald Amirault's mother, Violet (since deceased) and sister, Cheryl Amirault
LeFave. Gerald Amirault has regrettably remained in jail longer fo the same crimes. The state
Parole Board, in a unanimous 5-0 vote, said the time has come to release Gerald
Amirault, not on innocence or guilt, but on what is considered equitable sentencing and punishment.
Fair is fair. There just isn't a basis to continue to hold Gerald Amirault in jail.