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and the
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Gerry Amirault: Free at last!

Saturday, May 1, 2004


At 10 o'clock this morning, Gerald Amirault will walk out of his Massachusetts jail, a free man.

It is a joyous day for this prisoner, behind bars for 18 years after his 1986 conviction on charges of child sex abuse based on fantastical testimony dragged from pre-schoolers. Gerald's mother Violet and his sister Cheryl served eight years before their convictions were overturned in 1995.

It is also a happy day for this newspaper. Readers of this page will be familiar with Dorothy Rabinowitz's accounts of judicial abuse of the Amirault family and others falsely convicted of child sex abuse during a wave of irrational cases that swept the courts in the 1980s....

Along the way, the law was stood on its head. The rules of evidence were changed to accommodate the prosecution; the burden of proof was put on the accused. Four- and five-year-olds were coached to say what adults wanted to hear. All this was done in the name of virtue, with the result being the kind of catastrophic miscarriage of justice we saw in Mr. Amirault's case. There never was any truth to the charges brought against him. Nor was there anything that would, in saner times, have passed for evidence in an American courtroom.

On the other hand, there were the prosecutors, determined to hold on to their convictions even as those lost all credibility. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts upheld the prosecutors despite voluminous evidence that the Amiraults had been convicted on the basis of bogus testimony.

The Wall Street Journal
Friday, April 30, 2004
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
Gerald Amirault's Freedom


Closing a case that came to symbolize the controversy over tactics used by prosecutors and investigators in the wide-scale child molestation investigations of the 1980s, former Malden day-care worker Gerald Amirault was freed on parole yesterday after spending 18 years behind bars for sexually assaulting nine children at his family's day-care center....

While some of the methods used to obtain child witness testimony in the Fells Acres case have been discredited and abandoned, Amirault's conviction still stands....

Along with the McMartin preschool case in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, the Fells Acres prosecution initially became a national example of the horror of child sexual abuse. But as the aggressive, suggestive techniques of investigators came under closer scrutiny, it came to symbolize, for many, child-abuse hysteria.

For two decades, the Amiraults denied their guilt, and they and their supporters insisted that they were steamrolled by questionable testimony from child witnesses who they said were badgered until they concocted wild tales of abuse to please therapists and parents. Gerald Amirault maintained his innocence throughout his imprisonment, refusing to undergo counseling for sex abuse because he viewed it as an admission of guilt....

Amirault's parole has been widely anticipated since July 2001, when the state Board of Pardons recommended that his 40-year prison sentence be commuted. Acting Governor Jane Swift rejected the commutation recommendation in February 2002, but the board granted him parole last October.

The Boston Globe
Saturday, May 1, 2004
Amirault is freed from prison
Conviction stands in day-care abuse


"I'm going to get my name back," Amirault said, declaring his case a "Fells Acres fraud" that killed his mother, Violet, who died in 1997, but never broke his devoted Malden family.

"I'm going to do everything I have to do, everything I can, to get the case overturned and expose what happened," Amirault said after leaving his Norfolk cell. "Everything I worked for 'til I was 31 years old was taken away from me." ...

Amirault returned to his Malden home last night, where he intends to live despite memories of three bullets fired into his house in the 1980s."I'm going to give back to everyone who gave to me," he said.

LeFave, whose conviction was thrown out when a judge found new research showed the children's memories were improperly tainted by investigators, attended the small party for her brother yesterday at an Italian restaurant in Boston.

"We're not stigmatized in my family. There's more a sense of pride of being able to withstand this for 18 years," she said. "It's not a time to be bitter, but it's not a time to forget."

The Boston Herald
Saturday, May 1, 2004
'Tooky' Amirault walks free after 18 years


Gerald "Tooky" Amirault vowed to clear his family's name after he was released from prison yesterday, 18 years after his controversial conviction in one of the country's most bizarre and bitterly disputed child-molestation cases....

"It's a bit overwhelming," Amirault said. "I'm grateful to my wife and my children and the family and friends I have that are surrounding me. This is what's representative of Gerald Amirault and his family, not this case, this Fells Acres fraud."

His sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, who was also convicted in the case, smiled broadly and gave the thumbs-up sign as her brother's long ordeal came to an end.

"We won't ever forget what happened to our family," LeFave said....

They claimed they were railroaded by questionable testimony from child witnesses who they said were badgered by well-meaning therapists until they concocted their tales of abuse.

"We invite scrutiny," Amirault said. "We're not afraid of the truth."

Amirault pledged to clear his family's name and challenged the media to fully investigate the case now that he has been released from prison.

"I'm going to fight this case to the day I die," he said. "I'm going to get my name back."

Associated Press
Saturday, May 1, 2004
Amirault vows to clear name
Convicted molester released, maintains he's innocent


Chip Ford's CLT Commentary

Greetings activists and supporters:

After 18 years behind bars for being convicted of a crime that never occurred, Gerald Amirault was finally set free yesterday. Along with family members and many other friends and supporters, Barbara, Chip Faulkner and I were invited to his family's release celebration at Maggiano's Restaurant in Boston.

Also celebrating with us was Wall Street Journal Pulitzer Prize winner Dorothy Rabinowitz -- whose columns caught Chip Faulkner's attention many years ago, leading us into this campaign against taxpayer-funded injustice.

Afterward, Gerry and his attorney, Jamie Sultan, along with his family and many of the supporters, held a press conference at Sultan's office. Gerry has vowed to clear his and his family's name after this shameful miscarriage of justice (as documented for years on our website).

Boston Globe reporter Ralph Ranalli made one glaring error in his otherwise excellent report today. He stated "LeFave eventually cut a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty ..." and that simply is false. None of the Amirault family ever pleaded guilty, ever. Mr. Ranalli has promised a correction in Sunday's Boston Globe.

Wife Patti, Barbara, and Gerry Amirault

 

Pulitzer prize-winning Wall Street Journal columnist Dorothy Rabinowitz and Barbara -- who's written her share of columns on the injustice too.

Gerry surrounded by a few friends
and supporters at Maggiano's Restaurant

 

 

FELLS ACRES CASE COMES TO END
Patrick Amirault comforted his father, Gerald, who was released from prison yesterday after serving 18 years for molesting children. He has maintained his innocence.
 (Boston Globe photo)

Chip Ford

BARBARA'S NOTE:  I will write a column about this next week; after Jane Swift’s shocking refusal to commute, we were all afraid to be overconfident until Gerry was actually free. My sincere thanks to CLT members who have also been supportive, and understood our need to get involved in this once-controversial case (though if you go to TheBostonChannel.com poll you will see that we are no longer alone in our convictions).


The Wall Street Journal
Friday, April 30, 2004

REVIEW & OUTLOOK 
Gerald Amirault's Freedom


At 10 o'clock this morning, Gerald Amirault will walk out of his Massachusetts jail, a free man.

It is a joyous day for this prisoner, behind bars for 18 years after his 1986 conviction on charges of child sex abuse based on fantastical testimony dragged from pre-schoolers. Gerald's mother Violet and his sister Cheryl served eight years before their convictions were overturned in 1995.

It is also a happy day for this newspaper. Readers of this page will be familiar with Dorothy Rabinowitz's accounts of judicial abuse of the Amirault family and others falsely convicted of child sex abuse during a wave of irrational cases that swept the courts in the 1980s.

Our system isn't always immune to destructive pressures, and the child-abuse prosecutions of the 1980s were one such instance. Mr. Amirault's prosecution was driven by the passions of the times -- in this case, the belief that child predators lurked everywhere and that the child "victims" must be believed at all costs.

Along the way, the law was stood on its head. The rules of evidence were changed to accommodate the prosecution; the burden of proof was put on the accused. Four- and five-year-olds were coached to say what adults wanted to hear. All this was done in the name of virtue, with the result being the kind of catastrophic miscarriage of justice we saw in Mr. Amirault's case. There never was any truth to the charges brought against him. Nor was there anything that would, in saner times, have passed for evidence in an American courtroom.

One of the reasons behind the district attorney's decision last week not to oppose Mr. Amirault's release on parole was that in order to have him classified as a "sexually dangerous person" there would have had to be a virtual re-trial of the entire Amirault case. The DA had to have been deterred by the prospect of parading into a courtroom with the incredible fantasies extracted from Mr. Amirault's alleged victims -- about secret rooms, magic drinks, animal butchery, assaults by a bad clown. Then-District Attorney Scott Harshbarger had offered them as "proof" of the Amiraults' guilt.

It is worth remembering, especially today, some of the players in this remarkable saga. They include the independent-minded lower court Judges Robert Barton and Isaac Borenstein, who waged their own small war against these cases and ordered new trials for the Amirault women. They also include the Amiraults' attorney, James Sultan, who like the judges was convinced of the Amiraults' innocence.

On the other hand, there were the prosecutors, determined to hold on to their convictions even as those lost all credibility. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts upheld the prosecutors despite voluminous evidence that the Amiraults had been convicted on the basis of bogus testimony.

Who can forget the opinion written by Associate Justice Charles Fried reinstating the convictions of Violet and Cheryl? Yes, Justice Fried allowed, the children had been subjected to leading questions and, yes, there had been an atmosphere of hysteria that had affected the investigations. And yes, certain of the defendants' constitutional rights had been violated. Even so, none of this served to "waken doubts" and was not a reason to "reopen what society has a right to consider closed."

Politicians also share in the blame, especially former Governor Jane Swift. In the midst of a political race, her poll numbers sinking, she overruled the Board of Pardons, which had issued a unanimous ruling in 2001 calling for commutation of Gerald Amirault's sentence. Her act condemned Mr. Amirault to three more years in jail.

These memories of Gerald's -- and all the Amiraults' -- long and bitter struggle can't cloud the joy of a day that sees him returned to his family. Whatever may lie ahead, it is, for the moment, enough.


The Boston Globe
Saturday, May 1, 2004

Amirault is freed from prison
Conviction stands in day-care abuse
By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff


Closing a case that came to symbolize the controversy over tactics used by prosecutors and investigators in the wide-scale child molestation investigations of the 1980s, former Malden day-care worker Gerald Amirault was freed on parole yesterday after spending 18 years behind bars for sexually assaulting nine children at his family's day-care center.

Amirault walked out of Norfolk State Prison yesterday morning into the arms of his waiting family, including his sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, who was convicted in the same case and was finally freed from prison in 1999. Later in the day, a defiant Amirault was surrounded by a large crowd of cheering family and friends at a press conference at his lawyer's office.

"This is what is representative of Gerald Amirault," Amirault said, gesturing to a group of about 40 relatives and supporters, "not this case, this fraud."

His release, which his wife, Patti, called "an out-of-body experience" for the family, finally put the controversial case to rest after 20 years of investigations, trials, and appeals, but it was an ending without a full resolution.

While some of the methods used to obtain child witness testimony in the Fells Acres case have been discredited and abandoned, Amirault's conviction still stands. Although he is returning home and will soon be able to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding, Amirault, 50, will be living among both supporters, who believe he was railroaded by overzealous police and prosecutors, and detractors, who will continue to insist that someone, most likely him, did something to the toddlers who attended his mother's day-care center. "I don't worry about the people who believe in that stuff," he said. "Sure, I'm angry. But I'm not bitter. I won't let bitterness get in the way. I've been dealing with this for 20 years, so I am very capable of moving on.

"We're not afraid of the truth," he said. "They use my case now as an example of how not to do these investigations."

For the most part yesterday, the tanned, robust-looking father of three appeared happy, if a bit overwhelmed by the massive media coverage of his release, which included helicopters swirling overhead. His anger flashed only briefly, when he was asked about his mother, Violet, who was convicted and served eight years in prison before she and LeFave were granted new trials in 1997.

Violet Amirault died of stomach cancer less than a year after being freed on bail, while awaiting a new trial. LeFave eventually cut a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty [sic] and received a sentence of time already served.

"I can't even talk about my mother," Gerald Amirault said, pausing briefly. "She worked hard her whole life to create a loving environment for children, and they killed her. They broke her heart. She died of a broken heart."

Along with the McMartin preschool case in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, the Fells Acres prosecution initially became a national example of the horror of child sexual abuse. But as the aggressive, suggestive techniques of investigators came under closer scrutiny, it came to symbolize, for many, child-abuse hysteria.

For two decades, the Amiraults denied their guilt, and they and their supporters insisted that they were steamrolled by questionable testimony from child witnesses who they said were badgered until they concocted wild tales of abuse to please therapists and parents. Gerald Amirault maintained his innocence throughout his imprisonment, refusing to undergo counseling for sex abuse because he viewed it as an admission of guilt.

The accusers, however, continue to stand by their testimony, which included stories of Gerald Amirault dressing up as a clown and raping children with knives. His accusers say the pain reawakened by his release has been amplified by the doubts about the case.

Amirault "is like a walking peacock today, like he's accomplished something," said Paul A. Bennett, whose daughter, Jennifer Bennett, was one of Amirault's accusers. "He hasn't accomplished anything."

Bennett said his daughter, now married with children of her own, has had a difficult time adjusting to Amirault's release and has been staying at her parents' house for emotional support. Bennett said his family is angry at the state Parole Board that freed Amirault.

"We obviously knew he was going to get out," he said. "But he was released on his first parole date, and he never admitted he was guilty. He should have been left in there at least another year."

Tom Harbinson, a staff lawyer with the Minnesota-based National Child Protection Training Center, said yesterday that methods and techniques for interviewing child victims have advanced significantly since the Fells Acres and McMartin cases were prosecuted 20 years ago.

"We've learned a lot since then," said Harbinson, whose group provides training for law enforcement and child protection workers. "Prosecutors didn't have a lot of experience with child cases back then, and people had to go by the seat of their pants."

While two decades ago a child might have been subjected to repeated interviews by police, social workers, parents, and prosecutors with little or no training, victims are now interviewed as few times as possible, often on videotape, with a minimum of leading or suggestive questioning, he said.

Attorney Laurence Hardoon, who prosecuted the Fells Acres case, stood by the prosecution yesterday and insisted that some aspects of the investigation were on the "leading edge" of new techniques. Hardoon said, for example, that investigators took pains to keep interviews of victims to a minimum and said there was not as much suggestive questioning as the Amiraults and their supporters have charged.

Hardoon did, however, acknowledge that some techniques have changed since then, including the far-less-frequent use of anatomically correct dolls.

Amirault's parole has been widely anticipated since July 2001, when the state Board of Pardons recommended that his 40-year prison sentence be commuted. Acting Governor Jane Swift rejected the commutation recommendation in February 2002, but the board granted him parole last October.

Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley paved the way for Amirault's release earlier this month, announcing that there was not enough evidence to ask that Amirault be civilly committed to a state treatment center as a sexually dangerous person following completion of his criminal sentence.

Amirault said yesterday that he plans to return to Malden, pursue some employment possibilities, and spend time surrounded by family and friends who never believed he was the serial abuser that prosecutors said had raped and molested nine 3- and 4-year-old children.

"They know who I am," he said. "I am so far away from that as a person, you couldn't get there with the space shuttle." 


The Boston Herald
Saturday,May 1, 2004

'Tooky' Amirault walks free after 18 years
By J.M. Lawrence


On his first day of freedom in 18 years, Gerald "Tooky" Amirault danced with his wife, Patti, to a Barry Manilow song, clung to his three children and vowed to repair the damage wrought by his conviction for molesting 11 kids.

"I'm going to get my name back," Amirault said, declaring his case a "Fells Acres fraud" that killed his mother, Violet, who died in 1997, but never broke his devoted Malden family.

"I'm going to do everything I have to do, everything I can, to get the case overturned and expose what happened," Amirault said after leaving his Norfolk cell. "Everything I worked for 'til I was 31 years old was taken away from me."

Now 50, Amirault won parole in October and passed psychological tests deeming him unlikely to reoffend. Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley decided the state did not have a strong enough case to keep Amirault behind bars as a sexual predator.

Amirault was convicted in 1986 of molesting the children at his mother's Malden day care in a case bitterly debated on a national stage for the social workers' handling of the child witnesses. His mother and sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, were convicted in 1987, but LeFave's conviction was overturned in 1998.

One of Tooky's victims, Jennifer Bennett, who is now a 25-year-old mother of two, cringed as she watched Amirault's afternoon news conference where attorney James Sultan read a judge's decision portraying her as the victim of brainwashing.

"I know I told the truth. I know nobody told me what to say," Bennett said.

Her father, Paul Bennett, said that while other victims and their families have tired of the case, he has decided to be "the strong person" who will counter the Amiraults.

"I will be the one who fights them until the day I die," said Paul Bennett, who lives in Malden.

Larry Hardoon, who prosecuted the Fells Acres case, said he still believes Amirault molested the children at the center his mother operated for more than 20 years before going to prison.

"Anybody that takes the time to understand and pay attention to what the actual facts were - not the mischaracterization of facts that gets spread by the defense - the convictions have always been upheld as sound and fully supportable," he said.

Amirault returned to his Malden home last night, where he intends to live despite memories of three bullets fired into his house in the 1980s."I'm going to give back to everyone who gave to me," he said.

LeFave, whose conviction was thrown out when a judge found new research showed the children's memories were improperly tainted by investigators, attended the small party for her brother yesterday at an Italian restaurant in Boston.

"We're not stigmatized in my family. There's more a sense of pride of being able to withstand this for 18 years," she said. "It's not a time to be bitter, but it's not a time to forget."


Associated Press
Saturday, May 1, 2004

Amirault vows to clear name
Convicted molester released, maintains he's innocent
By Denise Lavoie 


Gerald "Tooky" Amirault vowed to clear his family's name after he was released from prison yesterday, 18 years after his controversial conviction in one of the country's most bizarre and bitterly disputed child-molestation cases.

Amirault waved and smiled nervously to more than a dozen family members and friends who were on hand as he left Bay State Correctional Center in Norfolk with his wife, Patti, and his lawyer, James Sultan. His three adult children followed in another car.

Amirault was convicted in 1986 of molesting and raping eight 3- and 4-year-old children at his family's Fells Acres day care center in Malden. But he insisted he was innocent throughout his imprisonment, refusing to undergo counseling for sex abuse because he viewed it as an admission of guilt.

"It's a bit overwhelming," Amirault said. "I'm grateful to my wife and my children and the family and friends I have that are surrounding me. This is what's representative of Gerald Amirault and his family, not this case, this Fells Acres fraud."

His sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, who was also convicted in the case, smiled broadly and gave the thumbs-up sign as her brother's long ordeal came to an end.

"We won't ever forget what happened to our family," LeFave said.

But Amirault's joyous release from prison did not end the controversy that has swirled around the case for two decades.

In a case that came to symbolize changing attitudes toward the mass prosecution of child sex abuse cases, the Amiraults insisted they were victims of the day care sex abuse hysteria that swept the country in the 1980s.

They claimed they were railroaded by questionable testimony from child witnesses who they said were badgered by well-meaning therapists until they concocted their tales of abuse.

"We invite scrutiny," Amirault said. "We're not afraid of the truth."

Amirault pledged to clear his family's name and challenged the media to fully investigate the case now that he has been released from prison.

"I'm going to fight this case to the day I die," he said. "I'm going to get my name back."

But their accusers - now young adults - insist Amirault is the monster they said he was during his trial. Their testimony, which included stories of Amirault dressing up as a clown and raping children with knives, and the ritualistic slayings of animals, made up the bulk of the state's case.

His sister and mother, Violet Amirault, were convicted during a separate trial and were released from prison in 1995. Violet Amirault died in 1997.

Gerald Amirault said his mother's conviction "broke her heart" on a "false allegation."

"My mother worked her whole life providing a nurturing and caring environment for children," he said.

Amirault accuser Jennifer Bennett, now married with two children of her own, said earlier this week her stomach was in knots just thinking about his release. She said she still has flashbacks, wakes up in a cold sweat and is terrified by clowns.

Larry Hardoon, the chief prosecutor in the case, said he continues to believe Amirault committed the crimes. He defended the interviewing techniques used by investigators, which were later criticized as leading and suggestive to the children.

"Anybody that takes the time to understand and pay attention to what the actual facts were - not the mischaracterization of facts that gets spread by the defense - the convictions have always been upheld as sound and fully supportable," he said.

"I believe he had a fair trial and that the system worked the way it's supposed to work. I've never seen or heard anything from the beginning of this case to today - that makes me think otherwise," he said.

Amirault said he is so far away from being a child molester that "you couldn't get there with a space shuttle," he said.

For now, he's looking forward to the wedding of one daughter and watching his son play college football.

The state Board of Pardons recommended in July 2001 his sentence be commuted, but then-acting Gov. Jane M. Swift rejected the recommendation in February 2002.

He was granted parole last October and Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley announced last month that there was not enough evidence to have Amirault committed indefinitely as a sexually dangerous person.

Amirault will return to Malden, the city of 56,000 north of Boston where the Fells Acres saga unfolded two decades ago.


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