CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION
and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

The Wall Street Journal
Editorial

September 11, 1997


THE AMIRAULT CASE

A Citizen of Massachusetts
 

The family members and close friends of Violet Amirault, former owner of the Fells Acres Day School in Malden, Massachusetts, came to say goodbye over the last few days. Mrs. Amirault, whose inoperable stomach cancer was diagnosed only a few weeks ago, is not expected to live out the week. The world came to know her name, of course, because of the sensational child sex-abuse case which the then district attorney Scott Harshbarger brought against her and her two children, Gerald and Cheryl--a case built out of thin air, political ambition and the relentless coercion of four- and five-year-olds, pressed to make charges against the accused.

This, precisely, is what happened to Gerald Amirault, given 30 to 40 years, who has been behind bars since 1986, and to Violet and Cheryl Amirault who served eight years before their convictions were overturned in 1995. By now, most of the rational world acquainted with the facts of this case understand that three innocent people were convicted in the Fells Acres prosecution--with its patently incredible charges involving robots and animal slaughter, secret rooms and the prosecutors' ludicrous charges of rape with butcher knives and other sharp instruments that somehow managed to leave no evidence of injury.

This comprehension of reality, needless to say, did not extend to the exterminating angels who preside over the system of justice in Massachusetts. While the state no longer burns witches at the stake, some quite similar impulse explains how it came to pass that Violet Amirault has spent most of the last decade of her life in prison--and the remaining two struggling to survive the district attorney's determined efforts to get all the Amiraults back into prison and preserve their convictions.

It also explains the scenes at the end of Violet Amirault's life. That would include the last sight of her son Gerald, released from prison for a final visit. In cuffs and leg shackles, and with two prison guards standing by, in addition to security guards outside the door, Gerald Amirault said his final farewell to his mother. He was given 15 minutes.

Violet Amirault, whose life of hard won success, and abundance, came to a crashing end with a prosecution begun 13 years ago, has come to the end of her struggles. For her, the justice delayed, in this case will be forever justice denied.

That leaves for us the state's political establishment. Scott Harshbarger is now Massachusetts Attorney General and the Democrats' gubernatorial candidate to succeed William Weld. District Attorney Tom Riley has spent the last months pressing efforts to put the Amirault women back in prison. And of course we had the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's ruling reinstating the women's convictions. All these may be considered participants in the same lightning of false accusation that seared so many other lives since the early 1980s.

The sitting governor, who succeeded Mr. Weld, is Republican Paul Cellucci, who will be Mr. Harshbarger's opponent. Mr. Harshbarger expects to ride the Amirault bonfire into the statehouse. Governor Cellucci, a huge underdog, could extinguish his opponent's precious torch and do personal, political and moral credit to himself--and his state--by pardoning the two members of this family who survive Violet Amirault.


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