CITIZENS   FOR  LIMITED  TAXATION  &  GOVERNMENT
and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

 

CLT Update
Thursday,  February 21, 2002

Acting Gov. Swift claims "no politics"
in her "thorough and deliberate" political decision


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.

Associated Press
Feb. 21, 2002
Swift defends decision to reject commutation for convicted child abuser 


One of the Governor's aides may have given the game away when he told a Boston Herald reporter, on background, that Ms. Swift knew there would be a backlash if she refused Gerald Amirault's appeal, but that she feared the backlash from the other side might be stronger.

The Wall Street Journal
Review & Outlook
Feb. 21, 2001
UnSwift Justice


Associated Press
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 bars.

"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 sister, Cheryl.

"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 17 years.

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 3 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 was unfair.

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 unfairness."

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 Amirault.

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 spared.

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

Crying foul: Tooky kin rip gov's 'political' decision
by Elisabeth J. Beardsley

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 prison sentence.

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 Silverglate.

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, Silverglate said.

"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 Amirault's conviction.

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 in self-development."

Swift's decision could theoretically be reversed if a new governor is elected in November.

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 just that."


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 mid-1980s.

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 political.

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 staff.

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 approved it.

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 consultant.

"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
Globe Staff

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 "extremely tough."

"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 petitioner's conviction."

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 said.

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 self-development."

"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 Board's recommendation.

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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