State government made an honest mistake in the 1980s
when it got caught up in the national hysteria over
alleged sexual assaults in day care centers.
But there is nothing honest about its self-serving
continued insistence that the Amiraults are guilty
when it has to know by now that they are not.
Fifteen years ago, Violet, Cheryl and Gerald
Amirault of the Fells Acre Day School in Malden were
accused of child molestation. I believed it too, in
1984: Somehow a mother and her two grown children,
who had been running their day care center for 14
years without incident, became perverts overnight.
There were clowns in secret rooms, elephant games,
satanic rituals, pornography and naked kids tied to
If I read the news closely enough I may have noticed
that there were no adult witnesses and no physical
evidence, but prosecutors seemed convinced that this
didn't matter, and how could the children make it
There's evil in the world, for sure, and I guessed
that this was just one more bizarre example of it. I
I was ignorant of the techniques used by social
workers to question small children, and only vaguely
aware of the trendy hysteria sweeping the nation
like a communicable disease. I was naive enough to
think that prosecutors were giving the defendants a
fair chance to prove they were innocent, as our
court system requires.
Over the years, I learned more about the case. I saw
tapes showing the children telling the truth -- that
no one had touched them, until they finally changed
their stories to the prompted lies. I read new
scientific evidence about how children can be
brainwashed by the wrong techniques. I found out
about the school insurance money that the alleged
victims' parents received, and marveled that no
other parents whose kids had attended Fells Acre
talked their kids into repressed memories to get
Finally, I watched the political advancement of the
successful prosecutors: Scott Harshbarger, Tom
Reilly, and Martha Coakley.
There's injustice in the world, for sure, but this
is not just one more example because by the `90s the
day care scare had become too bizarre to be
sustained anywhere else. Across the nation, similar
convictions were set aside as society outgrew its
hysteria. But here, state government clung
stubbornly to its original, emotional decision.
The Amiraults' refused to admit guilt in order to be
paroled. This is why they are often compared to the
victims of the Salem witch trials, who died because
they would not deny their innocence.
Gerald is still in prison, and Violet and Cheryl
were released in 1995 when they were granted a new
trial by a Superior Court judge.
Last week, the Supreme Judicial Court overruled him,
and Cheryl must go back to jail; Violet died two
years ago. The SJC was very defensive about
widespread criticism of an earlier decision in which
it denied a new trial because of a need for
"finality" in this case. In its
18 ruling, the SJC wrote: "The forceful, one
might say enthusiastic, endorsement of an interest
in finality and the application of waiver in
Commonwealth v. Amirault ... apparently struck some
as a radical and unwelcome departure from precedent.
In fact, the Amirault opinion made no significant
change in our treatment of post-appeal motions for a
new trial. It articulated society's justified
interest in finality that has long been implicit,
and sometimes explicit, in our announcements that
any late-arriving issue will prevail only if the
issue presents a substantial risk of a miscarriage
So all the justices believe that there is no
"substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice" here.
What lack of evidence? What scientific evidence of
There were clowns and elephants everywhere, hanging
naked from the trees while Gerald took photos that
no one has ever seen because Cheryl hexed them away!
The political system, for some reason, has circled
the wagons around this case. The Amirault attorney
has three options: He can appeal to real judges in
the federal courts, he can begin working toward a
"pardon" from the governor, or he can throw Cheryl
in Salem Harbor. According to longstanding
Massachusetts judicial tradition, if she sinks,
Despite the weight of their appalling indifference
to justice, the prosecutors and the SJC would float.
When a mistake becomes a persecution, it takes on
the appearance of genuine evil, and we all know
there is evil in the world, for sure.
Dorothy Rabinowitz's column in the Wall Street Journal
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.