When I was a kid my heroes
were Robin Hood, Tarzan, Roy Rogers, and Sheena,
Queen of the Jungle. The nuns added an assortment of
martyrs who bravely died for their faith, and the
explorers we studied in history class.
Now I know that anyone can be a hero, and they're
found all around us. I discovered a bunch of them
when I decided to investigate the Fells Acre Day
School child-abuse case.
At first, I just noticed my mind reacting to
irrationality. Once I began, out of curiosity,
asking questions, I found there were no answers to
1. Why would three members of a family, after
running a day care center for almost 20 years
without incident, suddenly become perverts
2. Why was there no physical evidence of the bizarre
events of which the Amiraults were accused? Why
didn't other teachers, or parents who dropped in
during the day, notice anything odd?
3. Why did all the children, when first questioned,
say that nothing improper had happened?
4. Why, after the accusations became public, was
there not an epidemic of "recovered memory"
accusations from earlier client families, especially
when insurance money was given to victims? No
children except the ones who were questioned by
social workers ever came forward.
5. If Gerald Amirault were really a sexual predator,
why, in all his years in prison, were there no
instances of improper advances toward young
6. Why wouldn't at least one of the three convicted
Amiraults admit guilt just to get out of jail? Then
they could move to another state, say Pennsylvania,
where prosecutors looked at similar accusations,
said, "Where's the evidence?" and dropped the case.
Somewhere along the way, my discomfort about
injustice made room for admiration of the heroes who
have come to populate the Fells Acre case in
Massachusetts. A partial list:
1. The Amirault family itself. Valiant mother,
Violet, who could rise above the horror to laugh at
the absurdity of it all. Daughter Cheryl, gracious
yet tough enough to defend her mother in their
shared prison. Son Gerry, whose ongoing incredulity
that this could happen to his family seems to take
up all the space that most people would fill with
Gerry's wife Patti, has supported her family as a
schoolteacher, with Gerry playing an ongoing role
from prison. Their three amazingly resilient
children: Gerrilyn, who has just graduated from
college; Katie, who will be a college senior; and
P.J., who is spending the summer in a landscaping
job before starting his junior year in high school.
2. The judges, Robert Barton and Isaac Borenstein:
one considered tough, one considered "soft," who
ordered new trials for Violet and Cheryl.
3. The juror who wrote to the parole board that he
is now convinced of Gerald's innocence and regrets
the guilty verdict.
4. And now, the Parole Board, considered one of the
toughest in the nation, that unanimously recommended
commutation for Gerald. The three-member majority,
Kivlan, Dewey and Murphy, are heroes for stating
honestly that while this was not the reasoning
behind the decision, it must be acknowledged that
real and substantial doubt exists concerning the
The other two members who recommended that "the
petitioner participate in mandatory sex offender
treatment if he is released" miss the key point of
Gerry's heroism -- that he has refused to accept
guilt for something he didn't do, and has refused to
pretend that sex education treatment has any
relevance to him even if it meant a chance for
Of course, where there are heroes, there are usually
villains as well. But in this case the villain was
ignorance, which allowed social workers to pressure
small children into thinking they had been abused by
the Amiraults when they initially insisted that they
had not. These kids, now grown, must never be
allowed to think that the injustice was their fault.
Unlike the teen-agers who started the 17th century
Salem witch hunt, they didn't initiate the
accusations, and tried to tell the truth to adults
who would not accept it. Those overzealous
prosecutors probably meant well at the time, and
became villains only when they refused to admit they
made a mistake.
It's better to focus on the heroes. The governor has
promised to carefully review the case history and
make a decision strictly on the facts, not on
This is good news for the Amiraults, since anyone
with an open, intelligent mind can come to only one
conclusion after such a review: That Gerry Amirault
should be set free. If Jane Swift follows in the
footsteps of her predecessor, Gov. William Phipps,
who ended the Salem witch trials, she will soon be a
Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited
Taxation. Her syndicated columns appear weekly in the Salem Evening News and the Lowell Sun;
bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette; and occasionally in other newspapers.