The Boston Globe
Tuesday, July 10, 2001

Swift's aides seen leaning in favor of freeing Amirault
By Frank Phillips
Globe Staff

Acting Governor Jane Swift's top aides are leaning toward recommending she commute the sentence of convicted child molester Gerald Amirault, administration sources told the Globe.

However, the issue remains emotional and somewhat divisive even in her inner circle, and yesterday Swift asked her legal team for a detailed review of the case and refused to commit to a timetable for her decision.

In her first public comments on the Parole Board's recommendation that Amirault be released, Swift told reporters she is keeping an open mind, and that she has never held an opinion on Amirault's guilt or innocence.

"There's a lot of emotion on both sides of this issue," Swift said. "I don't come to it with any preconceived notions. I am going to do a thorough review of all the facts."

If Swift agrees with the Parole Board's recommendation, the commutation would be sent to the Governor's Council, which makes the final decision.

"We are going to take the necessary time to make sure we do a thorough review of the facts that are ... put before me," Swift said.

The Amirault commutation is the most politically volatile issue Swift has faced since she took office in April. Her press secretary Jason Kauppi said that she has received about 80 e-mails and 20 phone calls since the parole board's 5-0 decision was announced Friday. Most of those contacting her favored commutation, Kauppi said.

Still, her advisers say the issue is so emotional that whatever she decides, Swift will face a blizzard of criticism. "This is a no-win situation," said one top aide.

Aides said the issue Swift will focus on as she reviews the case is not whether Amirault is guilty, but whether the 15 years he has served in prison is enough, and whether his 30-to-40 year sentence was commensurate to the crime.

The Parole Board's strongly worded statement concerning Amirault's guilt appears to be especially influencing Swift's top aides, one high-ranking administration source said.

In its decision, the Parole Board wrote that "Gerald Amirault has demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that his further incarceration would constitute gross unfairness, because of ... the severity of sentence in comparison to the sentence [s] received by codefendants."

Amirault's mother and sister received 8-to-20-year sentences for their convictions of similar child rape and abuse offenses at the family's Fells Acres Day Care Center in Malden.

Administration sources suggested that Amirault's chances are boosted considerably because the Parole Board has a reputation as being tough on pardons and commutations. Swift can cite the fact that Amirault not only cleared that board's scrutiny, but gained unanimous support for his freedom in an unusually strongly worded decision.

The trial of Amirault, his sister Cheryl, and his mother, Violet, drew national attention from groups that contended the 1986 convictions were based on coached testimony from young children, and driven by overly aggressive prosecutors. His sister and mother were granted a motion for a new trial. They were released after serving eight years.

But those prosecutors, who include then Middlesex District Attorney Attorney Scott Harshbarger and his top assistant, Thomas Reilly, now the state attorney general, insist the physical evidence in the case supports the children's charges.

The children, now adults, who testified in the case have also voiced concern and outrage that Amirault could see his sentence cut short.

The trial occurred at a time when child molestation charges at day care centers were cropping up across the country. The Fells Acres case dominated much the news in Massachusetts during that period.

Swift, however, noted that she was attending college out of state during the high-profile trial and therefore is not steeped in the facts of the case.

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