and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


The Salem Evening News
Saturday, July 14, 2001

Plenty of heroes in the Amirault case;
Gov. Swift can be one too

by Barbara Anderson

When I was a kid my heroes were Robin Hood, Tarzan, Roy Rogers, and Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. The nuns added an assortment of martyrs who bravely died for their faith, and the explorers we studied in history class.

Now I know that anyone can be a hero, and they're found all around us. I discovered a bunch of them when I decided to investigate the Fells Acre Day School child-abuse case.

At first, I just noticed my mind reacting to irrationality. Once I began, out of curiosity, asking questions, I found there were no answers to these six:

1. Why would three members of a family, after running a day care center for almost 20 years without incident, suddenly become perverts overnight?

2. Why was there no physical evidence of the bizarre events of which the Amiraults were accused? Why didn't other teachers, or parents who dropped in during the day, notice anything odd?

3. Why did all the children, when first questioned, say that nothing improper had happened?

4. Why, after the accusations became public, was there not an epidemic of "recovered memory" accusations from earlier client families, especially when insurance money was given to victims? No children except the ones who were questioned by social workers ever came forward.

5. If Gerald Amirault were really a sexual predator, why, in all his years in prison, were there no instances of improper advances toward young prisoners?

6. Why wouldn't at least one of the three convicted Amiraults admit guilt just to get out of jail? Then they could move to another state, say Pennsylvania, where prosecutors looked at similar accusations, said, "Where's the evidence?" and dropped the case.

Somewhere along the way, my discomfort about injustice made room for admiration of the heroes who have come to populate the Fells Acre case in Massachusetts. A partial list:

1. The Amirault family itself. Valiant mother, Violet, who could rise above the horror to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Daughter Cheryl, gracious yet tough enough to defend her mother in their shared prison. Son Gerry, whose ongoing incredulity that this could happen to his family seems to take up all the space that most people would fill with bitterness.

Gerry's wife Patti, has supported her family as a schoolteacher, with Gerry playing an ongoing role from prison. Their three amazingly resilient children: Gerrilyn, who has just graduated from college; Katie, who will be a college senior; and P.J., who is spending the summer in a landscaping job before starting his junior year in high school.

2. The judges, Robert Barton and Isaac Borenstein: one considered tough, one considered "soft," who ordered new trials for Violet and Cheryl.

3. The juror who wrote to the parole board that he is now convinced of Gerald's innocence and regrets the guilty verdict.

4. And now, the Parole Board, considered one of the toughest in the nation, that unanimously recommended commutation for Gerald. The three-member majority, Kivlan, Dewey and Murphy, are heroes for stating honestly that while this was not the reasoning behind the decision, it must be acknowledged that real and substantial doubt exists concerning the conviction.

The other two members who recommended that "the petitioner participate in mandatory sex offender treatment if he is released" miss the key point of Gerry's heroism -- that he has refused to accept guilt for something he didn't do, and has refused to pretend that sex education treatment has any relevance to him even if it meant a chance for parole.

Of course, where there are heroes, there are usually villains as well. But in this case the villain was ignorance, which allowed social workers to pressure small children into thinking they had been abused by the Amiraults when they initially insisted that they had not. These kids, now grown, must never be allowed to think that the injustice was their fault.

Unlike the teen-agers who started the 17th century Salem witch hunt, they didn't initiate the accusations, and tried to tell the truth to adults who would not accept it. Those overzealous prosecutors probably meant well at the time, and became villains only when they refused to admit they made a mistake.

It's better to focus on the heroes. The governor has promised to carefully review the case history and make a decision strictly on the facts, not on politics.

This is good news for the Amiraults, since anyone with an open, intelligent mind can come to only one conclusion after such a review: That Gerry Amirault should be set free. If Jane Swift follows in the footsteps of her predecessor, Gov. William Phipps, who ended the Salem witch trials, she will soon be a hero too.

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.

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