The Boston Globe
Thursday, April 22, 2004
Amirault will soon be a free man
Convicted molester heads home next week
By John Ellement, Globe Staff
Gerald Amirault, whose 1986 convictions for child rape helped spawn a national debate over the testimony of children in molestation cases, will be freed from prison next week after Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley decided yesterday she cannot prove the most notorious figure in the Fells Acre Day Care Center case is currently a threat to children.
In October, the state Parole Board voted to grant parole to Amirault, who has served 17 of his 30 to 40-year sentence, and prosecutors had six months to decide if they would seek to have him civilly committed as a sexually dangerous person.
Along with his sister Cheryl Amirault LeFave and their late mother, Violet Amirault, Gerald Amirault operated the day care center in Malden when a investigation began in 1984 into allegations all three had molested children in their care by, among other things, taking them into secret rooms and assaulting them with objects.
He was convicted in 1986 of raping and molesting six girls and three boys, but has adamantly maintained his innocence, drawing national support from those who saw him as a victim of a criminal justice system gone awry.
"Gerald is looking forward to walking out of prison," his lawyer, James L. Sultan, said in a statement. "He'll walk out proudly because he knows he is innocent."
Amirault's family -- including his most steadfast supporter, his wife, Patti -- could not be reached for comment yesterday. An aide to Sultan said Amirault's family will not speak with reporters until Gerald is released from the Bay State Correctional Center in Norfolk on April 30.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Coakley said her decision not to seek a civil commitment of Amirault was guided, in part, by a mental health specialist who reviewed Amirault's history and concluded she could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he would assault children if released.
Coakley also said that Amirault's age (he turned 50 last month), the length of time that has passed since he molested the children, and the strict parole requirements he will be living under once outside of prison were also factors leading to her decision.
She said her office has examined 415 sex offenders about to be freed from prison and sought a civil commitment for 36.
"I think we have made the right decision," Coakley said. "Our crucial battle has been to prove that the children were telling the truth, that he was rightly convicted, and that conviction has withstood years of appeals."
Since 1986, the Supreme Judicial Court reviewed Amirault's trial and conviction three times. Although the state's highest court found fault with the way the trial was conducted, it affirmed the conviction every time.
During years of litigation, a series of court decisions led to the release in September 1995 of Violet Amirault and Cheryl Amirault LeFave. Violet Amirault died of cancer in 1997, and Cheryl was sent back to prison in August 1999. A judge reduced her sentence to time served, and she was released in October 1999.
The family and their supporters have long argued that the preschool age children who made the molestation accusations were steered into doing so by unskilled police and social workers who used interrogation techniques that have since been discredited by other professionals.
Jennifer Bennett, one of the children who testified against Amirault in Middlesex Superior Court, said yesterday that she was not wrong then and is not wrong now.
"He did rape and molest me; that is still in my head," said Bennett, who is now married and the mother of a son and daughter. "He is sick. He did it once. He will do it again.... He's like a wild animal who needs his prey."
Bennett, her husband, and two children have spent the past two weeks living with her parents at their Malden home. Bennett said she remains fearful of Amirault and feels safer being in her parents' home.
Bennett and other Amirault victims were notified Tuesday by Coakley's office that the last barrier to Amirault's release is now gone.
Bennett and her father, Paul A. Bennett, both said they did not find fault with Coakley, but they blamed the Parole Board for October's decision to grant Amirault parole even though he has refused to acknowledge he committed the crimes.
"She wouldn't let us down; she wouldn't let us victims down," Jennifer Bennett said. "If anyone could have gotten anything done, Martha could have. She fought for us. This is an outcome you can't do much about."
Bennett said Amirault's impending release is forcing her to resume therapy after a two-year break.
"I don't want to go," she said. "But I have to keep my mind clear for my children. My son and daughter share a bond with me. They feel all the emotions and anger that I feel."
Under the sexually dangerous person law, Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly -- who successfully fought off challenges to Amirault's conviction when he was Middlesex district attorney -- has independent authority to seek a civil commitment.
Beth Stone, a spokeswoman for Reilly, said yesterday the attorney general supports Coakley.
"We fully support the Middlesex district attorney and her findings," Stone said. "We will not be filing a petition seeking commitment."
According to Coakley and Parole Board records, Amirault will be on parole until November 2023. He will be required to register as a sex offender with the Sex Offender Registry Board, submit to drug testing, and is banned from being in contact with children under the age of 18. Any violation could send him back to prison under state law.
"My hope is -- for the victims especially, but for everyone involved -- that this will be the end of these proceedings and that all individuals involved can go about and do what they should be doing," Coakley said.
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