Thursday, February 21, 2002
Swift defends decision to reject commutation
for convicted child abuser
By Steve Leblanc
BOSTON (AP) Acting Gov. Jane M. Swift defended her decision to deny commutation for
Gerald "Tooky" Amirault in a case she said raised two "horrifying nightmares:" the
sexual abuse of children or the possible jailing of an innocent man.
In the end, Swift said she sided with the jury and against the Parole Board, which
voted unanimously in July to recommend Amirault's sentence be commuted.
His family vowed to continue to fight to free him.
Swift said she and her legal team reviewed about 100 cases of child abuse before
making the decision to keep Amirault, convicted in one of the most notorious mass
child-abuse cases of the 1980s, behind bars. He has served nearly 16 years of a 30-
to 40-year sentence.
"This decision was always going to be a no-win decision," Swift said. "Ultimately I
needed to be able to live with myself."
Amirault was convicted in 1986 of molesting and raping nine children at the family
run Fells Acres day care center in Malden. His sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, and
his late mother, Violet Amirault, were convicted in a separate trial.
Swift said she considered several factors in making her decision, including whether
Amirault would be a danger, the effects on victims and their families if he were
released, the length of his sentence and his rehabilitative activities while behind
"When you're innocent, what effort can you make to rehabilitate?" Amirault's wife,
Patti, said at a news conference, accompanied by her family, including Amirault's
"He should not have to say he's guilty in order to move on," she said. "He will
maintain his innocence, if it means the last day of the 40th year."
Swift's legal staff interviewed more than 35 people on both sides of the case and
decided that a sentence of two to three years for the assaults against each of the
children was fair. Amirault was convicted of eight charges of rape of a child and
seven counts of indecent assault on a child against a total of nine victims.
Amirault is eligible for parole in March 2004, when he will have served 17½
Swift faces re-election in the fall. She said she was not motivated by politics or
swayed by the wave of recent child abuse allegations against the Archdiocese of
Boston in making her decision.
Patti Amirault said she spoke to her husband, who was "devastated" but strong. She
said she thought Swift would rely on the Parole Board's recommendation.
The board issued a written statement Wednesday saying it respected Swift's decision.
The Amiraults' attorney, James Sultan, said the family is looking at three options:
to seek early parole, to appeal his sentence or try to get a new trial. They said
they'd decide in coming weeks which to pursue.
Jennifer Bennett, who testified against Amirault at his trial, said she supports
Swift's decision. Bennett, 23, said she was just 3½ years old when she was
sexually assaulted by Amirault.
"He touched me in places where no man should touch a young innocent child," said the
Malden resident and mother of two. "It destroyed my life. I never had a childhood. I
was in and out of courtrooms. To this day I can't stand to look at a clown."
Harriet Dell'Anno, who said her daughter was victimized at Fells Acres, said she was
also pleased with Swift's decision.
"I wish he would rot away in jail," Dell'Anno said. "He did what he did and he
shouldn't have done it and he's where he belongs."
The Amiraults said they were victims of sex abuse hysteria that swept the country in
the 1980s and questionable testimony from child witnesses.
"We welcome scrutiny in this case," Patti Amirault said.
A number of mass child abuse convictions have been overturned, the Little Rascals
day care center in Edenton, N.C., and the McMartin Preschool in Los Angeles being
among the most notorious.
After the parole board recommended Tooky Amirault's commutation, the victims, now
adults, identified themselves and stood by their testimony.
The Parole Board was not allowed to revisit the question of Amirault's guilt, but
only considered whether he has improved himself in prison and whether his sentence
Since 1990, the Parole Board has recommended 13 inmates for commutation. Of those,
seven were granted pardons.
The Boston Herald
Thursday, February 21, 2002
Jane's take on Tooky shows her cowardice
by Margery Eagan
Here's Gerald "Tooky" Amirault's biggest problem: He is not a priest.
While many of Boston's most powerful men - and a couple of women, let us pray - were
called to Bernard Cardinal Law's residence Tuesday to help deal with his coverup of
the biggest criminal child abuse ring in the history of the nation, acting Gov. Jane
Swift was deciding to keep in jail Gerald Amirault, who has already served 16 years,
whose "crimes," if there were any, pale in number and scope with those aided,
abetted and ignored by the church leader now getting advice and counsel from the
city's most influential.
You know throughout Gerald Amirault's long ordeal he, as well as his sister and his
late mother, steadfastly maintained his innocence. All three refused to admit any
guilt even though doing so could have earned them their freedom.
Meanwhile, dozens and dozens of priests have readily admitted their guilt, sometimes
their multiple guilt. Yet almost every one of them remains free.
No one in the political world seems at all incensed by this, including Swift. No, at
a press conference yesterday, she was very, very, tough on Tooky, son of a day-care
owner, convicted of eight counts of child rape.
Like her gubernatorial opponents, like every other supposed leader in this state,
she took a pass on getting tough with Law, mighty archdiocesan leader, who may have
covered up hundreds of child rapes.
She, too, hid behind the "let-the-Catholics-decide defense," as if what happened is
about Catholics in the pews. It's about crimes against children, the ones she's
supposedly saving from Gerald Amirault.
Yesterday Swift never really explained how it is that she knows more and better
about the Amirault case than the Parole Board. In an unusual and unanimous ruling
last summer, the board voted that keeping him in jail constituted "gross
Neither did she explain how it is that she knows more and better than the countless
legal experts and child abuse prosecutors who pored through the trial transcripts
and found serious flaws in the Amirault prosecution.
Most crucial were now-discredited prejudicial questioning techniques that had
children cajoled into saying things they had initially denied.
It seems about the only people who did not see these flaws were Swift's own legal
counsel, Leonard Lewin, the prosecutors who tried the case and its ultimate victims:
the Amirault family and the families of the Fells Acres children who are now
convinced of their gruesome molestation, whether it happened or not.
But Swift stunned even the most cynical observers yesterday when she cited the
Christopher Reardon child abuse case as a model for her ruling on
No one ever questioned Reardon's guilt or the prosecutorial methods in that case -
one thick with sex tapes and computer printouts listing little boys' physical
characteristics, like a blueprint of the crimes.
The irony of the comparison apparently escaped Swift, too. This newspaper has
reported that the Archdiocese of Boston was repeatedly warned about Reardon's
activities. Had the man at the top paid attention, the overwhelming majority of
Reardon's assaults would never have happened and dozens of children would have been
But in Jane's view, I guess it's not appropriate to criticize the intimidating
leader of a band of admitted criminals who tried to hide their crimes. It is,
however, appropriate to keep jailed a man who is very possibly not a criminal at
all. He has no friends in high places - he is just the son of a day-care owner, a
husband, a brother, a father of three.
There's very little justice in this world. So I suppose it's silly to expect it from
a woman whose chronic ineptitude leaves me embarrassed both for my sex and for my
state, whose venality regularly takes one's breath away.
But what Jane Swift did yesterday revealed her as a leader without courage,
compassion or soul.
The Boston Herald
Thursday, February 21, 2002
Convicted child molester Gerald "Tooky" Amirault's anguished family called him a
"political prisoner" yesterday, charging that acting Gov. Jane Swift's decision to
keep him behind bars stinks of election-year pandering.
"It's absolutely sickening," said 22-year-old daughter Gerrilyn Amirault. "(Swift)
just has to know - I'm a voter and so are all my friends, so good luck."
Facing down a media battalion, Amirault's wife, son and two daughters alternately
cried and angrily denounced Swift's refusal to commute Amirault's 30- to 40-year
They accused Swift of letting another case - the growing scandal involving child
abuse by priests - sway her decision.
Imprisoned nearly 16 years ago after the infamous Fells Acre day care case,
Amirault's best shot at freedom faded when Swift rejected the parole board's
unanimous recommendation to turn him loose.
Katie Amirault, a 21-year-old college senior, choked back tears as she recounted
learning of Swift's decision from a reporter. She said she desperately wants her
father to be at her graduation in three months.
"The only thing I was hoping for in the whole entire world was to have my father
home," she said. "You only have one graduation."
But Swift said she faced the prospect of "horrifying nightmares" - that she might
free a child molester or keep an innocent man jailed.
The acting governor said she considered the effect commutation would have on the
victims and the graphic nature of the charges, which included stories of kids being
fondled, tied to trees and raped with knives at the Malden day care center.
"Ultimately, I needed to be able to live with myself," she said.
Amirault has maintained his innocence from the start, and his lawyers have argued
that the original prosecutors used coercive, long-discredited interview techniques
on impressionable child witnesses.
The family is already mulling its next legal move, aided by an all-star legal lineup
that includes Harvard professor Charles Ogletree and civil liberties lawyer Harvey
While Swift's decision can't be challenged, Amirault lawyer James Sultan said they
could petition the parole board for early release.
Amirault won't be eligible for parole for another two years, but because he was
convicted prior to the 1994 "truth in sentencing" law, he can ask the parole board
to move his parole date up, Sultan said.
Another option being considered is to appeal Amirault's sentence to the Superior
Court appellate division, the lawyer said.
Gerald Amirault's sentence, for eight counts of child rape and seven counts of
indecent assault and battery on a child, was double those handed to his late mother,
Violet, and his sister, Cheryl LeFave.
Both women were freed in 1995 after an appeals court ruled that investigators used
faulty interview tactics.
As a last resort, the lawyers said Amirault could ask the courts for a new trial.
"We have not played our last card yet," Ogletree said. "Gerald will be freed."
The lawyers also have not ruled out circumventing Swift. Silverglate said Amirault
could be freed right away if the Legislature passed a statute broadening the
definition of "newly discovered evidence" - the grounds on which the state Supreme
Judicial Court upheld Amirault's conviction.
But that option is remote, given how slowly the legislative wheels tend to grind,
"Rather than spend three years trying to lobby a law through, we'd rather spend
three weeks trying to go back to the parole board," Silverglate said.
Amirault, who resides at Bay State Correctional Center, was not available for
comment. LeFave attended the press conference, but refrained from speaking publicly
as part of her own release agreement.
Swift, meanwhile, defended slamming Amirault's cell door shut.
After reviewing nearly 100 child rape cases and speaking with both the Amirault
family and the victims, Swift said she found no "overwhelming evidence" to warrant
overturning a jury verdict and two Supreme Judicial Court decisions upholding
And after examining Amirault's behavior in prison, his rehabilitation efforts and
the likelihood of re-offense, Swift said he had failed to make "exceptional strides
Swift's decision could theoretically be reversed if a new governor is elected in
The acting governor, whose polls have plummeted steadily as Democratic challengers
swarm, adamantly denied political motivations. She claimed the priest child abuse
scandal did not color her decision.
"I was obviously not acting in any political way," Swift said. "It was impossible in
this case to make everyone happy."
But when pressed for details on how Amirault - a model prisoner, according to his
family - failed to demonstrate good behavior, Swift refused at least three times to
answer the question.
"I don't want to go through and re-review," Swift said.
Swift also ducked questions about whether Amirault should be paroled when he becomes
eligible in two years, saying that decision is up to the parole board.
Swift received strong support from victims and Middlesex District Attorney Martha
Coakley, who said, "For almost two decades, the victims of Gerald Amirault and their
families have striven to put the trauma they sustained at the Fells Acre Day School
behind them. It is our hope that with (Swift's) decision, they will be able to do
The Boston Herald
Thursday, February 21, 2002
A Boston Herald editorial
Amirault decision victim of timing
It may not be fair. It may not be right. But Gerald Amirault is paying the price for
a huge and righteous public uproar over abuses wreaked by pedophile priests. That is
a sad but accurate fact of life in this state right now.
In deciding not to commute Amirault's sentence for child molestation, Swift rejected
the unanimous decision of the Parole Board, which found there was "real and
substantial doubt" about Amirault's guilt.
The Parole Board also took notice of the fact that his mother (now deceased) and
sister, who had also been convicted in the case, were freed in 1995 and that keeping
Amirault in prison longer would "constitute gross unfairness."
Swift's job - and the job of the legal team which reviewed this and some 100
comparable cases and sentences - was not to second-guess Amirault's guilt or
innocence. Heaven knows there are already too many people engaged in that exercise.
There are those who insist that he was the victim of a nationwide child molestation
scare, that Fells Acres was not the only facility that came under fire in the
And yet there are also former youthful victims, now old enough to articulate their
feelings, who still maintain they were victims. That - especially in the current
climate, a climate filled with the horrifying tales of other victims - is a
difficult hurdle to overcome.
If the public is to believe the allegations of young men molested decades ago, can
it disregard the memories of former children from Fells Acres?
"This decision was always going to be no-win decision," Swift said. yesterday
"Ultimately I needed to be able to live with myself."
This mother of three young children brings the personal to the table as well as the
Amirault has already served 16 years of a 30- to 40-year sentence. He will become
eligible for parole in 2004, at which time it's highly likely the board, which was
unanimously in his corner, will have the authority to grant him parole.
There were no easy solutions here. There was only making the best of a thoroughly
muddled situation in what has turned out to be a hideously bad time.
The Parole Board had it right, and will get another chance to uphold its decision.
The Boston Herald
Thursday, February 21, 2002
Case puts Swift in political box
Analysis/by Steve Marantz
The murky politics of refusing a commutation for convicted child molester Gerald
"Tooky" Amirault swirled about acting Gov. Jane M. Swift yesterday with as little
clarity as the case itself.
Swift said her gubernatorial campaign was not a factor, while Amirault's defenders
were adamant politics drove her decision.
"The governor has no clue which way this cuts politically - I promise you she did
not consider the political implications at all," said Stephen Crosby, her chief of
Said Gerald's wife, Patti Amirault: "Quite frankly I think the whole thing reeks" -
referring to election-year politics and revelations of the widespread pedophilia
scandal among Catholic priests in the Boston archdiocese.
The truth may lie somewhere in between. But the fact that four of five Democratic
gubernatorial candidates - who may have to decide on a future commutation
application if elected - declined to comment publicly suggested that the political
calculus was indeed dicey.
The fifth, Treasurer Shannon P. O'Brien, is the daughter of Edward O'Brien, a member
of the Governor's Council, which would have voted on the commutation if Swift had
O'Brien indicated that she tended to side with the Parole Board, which voted 5-0 for
a commutation, but is giving Swift the benefit of the doubt.
"Shannon said she couldn't make a judgment without reviewing the facts as the
governor had," said Dwight Robson, O'Brien's campaign manager.
Democrats avoided comment, one campaign adviser said, because public opinion is so
difficult to gauge on Amirault. The public was split, 50-50, in a 1998 survey, but
instant polls conducted last night by Boston television stations showed a majority
opposed to Swift's decision. The latest numbers come after the conviction of
defrocked priest John Geoghan.
Swift had several options, the most cautious of which was making no decision. Former
Govs. William F. Weld and Paul Cellucci chose not to act on five recommendations
during the 1990s, while granting seven commutations between them.
But acting rather than deferring may have been the point.
"She faced a very tough emotional issue which she did not have to face," Crosby
said. "She decided that it was right to look at this, study hard, and make an honest
and tough decision, no matter which way, which is characteristic of Jane Swift."
Her other options were approving the commutation now or close to the election, or
disapproving now or close to the election.
Approving the commutation would have gone against Attorney General Thomas Reilly and
possibly painted her as soft on crime, analysts said.
By deciding against Amirault early in the campaign, she took the second most
cautious political course - consciously or not.
"She came down on the side of victims and prosecutors and that's the right place to
be in terms of policy and the public's view," said Rob Gray, a Republican
"My guess is that the majority are unsure about the facts so they tend to err on the
side of caution, which means keeping him in prison. She's come down in the right
place," Gray said.
James Sultan, Amirault's lawyer, said, "Was (Swift's) decision based purely on
political self-interest? Should a man's freedom depend on political polling rather
than what is right and just? The answers to these questions are self-evident."
The Boston Globe
Thursday, February 21, 2002
Governor explains Amirault decision
Says she needed to 'live with myself'
By Douglas Belkin and Frank Phillips
Acting Governor Jane Swift yesterday said she decided to deny Gerald Amirault's
request for commutation in the notorious 1986 Fells Acres Day Care case because
there was no "overwhelming" evidence of innocence, but Amirault's family and legal
team quickly condemned her decision as politically motivated.
Swift, speaking at an afternoon news conference, called her decision not to commute
Amirault's 30- to 40-year sentence for molesting nine children under his care "one
of the toughest" she has made as governor, but said, "Ultimately I needed to live
with myself, and that is the guiding principle I used."
Swift said her staff performed a more thorough review of the case than the
five-member Massachusetts Parole Board, which recommended commutation for Amirault
in July, after its own investigation.
But attorney James Sultan, flanked by Amirault's wife and three children, expressed
dismay at Swift's disregard for a board he called professional, experienced, and
"Was her decision based purely on political self-interest, on an assessment of how
it might affect her chances to be elected governor?" Sultan said. "Should a man's
freedom depend on political polling, rather [than] upon what is right and just? Has
Gerald Amirault become, in a very real sense, a political prisoner? The answers to
those questions are self evident."
The Parole Board had recommended commutation because, it said, the sentence was
unusually severe compared with his codefendants and, "It is clearly a matter of
public knowledge that, at the minimum, real and substantial doubt exists concerning
Amirault was convicted of molesting nine children at the family-run Fells Acres Day
Care Center in Malden, in one of the most sensational of a spate of day-care
molestation cases around the country in the mid-1980s. His sister, Cheryl Amirault
LeFave, and his late mother, Violet Amirault, were convicted in a separate trial.
Both were later released on appeal. LeFave's sentence was reduced to time served.
Amirault's defenders have noted that the methods used to interview child witnesses
have since been discredited.
Now, Sultan said, the family soon will choose one of three options left to Amirault.
They will either seek early parole, an appeal of the sentence, or a new trial, he
In her announcement, Swift said her first consideration was whether there was
"overwhelming evidence" to contradict the jury conviction and two decisions by the
Supreme Judicial Court upholding the verdict.
"I concluded there was not," she said.
Swift said that she also considered the two guidelines for a commutation: that the
sentence is too severe and that the person had made "exceptional strides in
"Again, my answer was no," Swift said.
"I concluded after that review that the jury and the Supreme [Court] decisions
should be upheld and that under the commutation guidelines commutation was not
warranted," Swift said.
Amirault's wife, Patti, took particular offense at Swift's reference to her
husband's failure to rehabilitate himself. "If he stays in there till the last day
of his 40th year, he'll maintain his innocence," she said. "When you're innocent,
what effort can you make to rehabilitate?"
Swift said she reached her decision after an eight-month examination of the case by
her legal staff, which involved more than 30 interviews. Among them was a 45-minute
interview with Patti Amirault in the governor's office a week before Christmas.
Patti Amirault, who spoke through tears during a 4 p.m. news conference, said Swift
didn't want to discuss the facts of the case, just the sentencing. In retrospect,
she said, she would have pressed Swift about the facts.
Patti Amirault said the acting governor was "hard to read" and "very businesslike,"
but said she left the State House feeling positive, largely because of the Parole
After her family learned through the media of Swift's decision, Patti Amirault said
she was devastated but not completely surprised.
"From the beginning, timing and politics have been against us," she said, referring
to the intensely hostile environment against suspected child molesters in the '80s,
as well the recent pedophile priest scandal.
Peppered by questions for 20 minutes at the State House, Swift appeared tense and
serious. She called the gravity of the case tremendous and said that, politically,
it was a lose-lose situation.
"For decades, this case has evoked in different people, at different times, two
horrifying nightmares, the sexual abuse of young children or the possible jailing of
an innocent man," she said.
But ultimately, she said, she concluded that the sentence was appropriate and
consistent with other cases.
Pressed on how she could come up with a far different judgment than the five members
of the Parole Board, Swift said her staff conducted "a more exhaustive review of all
of the legal aspects" than the board did.
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