and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation


The Salem Evening News
Monday, August 23, 1999

Latest Amirault decision proves hysteria still runs rampant in the Bay State
by Barbara Anderson

State government made an honest mistake in the 1980s when it got caught up in the national hysteria over alleged sexual assaults in day care centers.

But there is nothing honest about its self-serving continued insistence that the Amiraults are guilty when it has to know by now that they are not.

Fifteen years ago, Violet, Cheryl and Gerald Amirault of the Fells Acre Day School in Malden were accused of child molestation. I believed it too, in 1984: Somehow a mother and her two grown children, who had been running their day care center for 14 years without incident, became perverts overnight. There were clowns in secret rooms, elephant games, satanic rituals, pornography and naked kids tied to trees.

If I read the news closely enough I may have noticed that there were no adult witnesses and no physical evidence, but prosecutors seemed convinced that this didn't matter, and how could the children make it all up?

There's evil in the world, for sure, and I guessed that this was just one more bizarre example of it. I was wrong.

I was ignorant of the techniques used by social workers to question small children, and only vaguely aware of the trendy hysteria sweeping the nation like a communicable disease. I was naive enough to think that prosecutors were giving the defendants a fair chance to prove they were innocent, as our court system requires.

Over the years, I learned more about the case. I saw tapes showing the children telling the truth -- that no one had touched them, until they finally changed their stories to the prompted lies. I read new scientific evidence about how children can be brainwashed by the wrong techniques. I found out about the school insurance money that the alleged victims' parents received, and marveled that no other parents whose kids had attended Fells Acre talked their kids into repressed memories to get their share.

Finally, I watched the political advancement of the successful prosecutors: Scott Harshbarger, Tom Reilly, and Martha Coakley.

There's injustice in the world, for sure, but this is not just one more example because by the `90s the day care scare had become too bizarre to be sustained anywhere else. Across the nation, similar convictions were set aside as society outgrew its hysteria. But here, state government clung stubbornly to its original, emotional decision.

The Amiraults' refused to admit guilt in order to be paroled. This is why they are often compared to the victims of the Salem witch trials, who died because they would not deny their innocence.

Gerald is still in prison, and Violet and Cheryl were released in 1995 when they were granted a new trial by a Superior Court judge.

Last week, the Supreme Judicial Court overruled him, and Cheryl must go back to jail; Violet died two years ago. The SJC was very defensive about widespread criticism of an earlier decision in which it denied a new trial because of a need for "finality" in this case. In its Aug. 18 ruling, the SJC wrote: "The forceful, one might say enthusiastic, endorsement of an interest in finality and the application of waiver in Commonwealth v. Amirault ... apparently struck some as a radical and unwelcome departure from precedent. In fact, the Amirault opinion made no significant change in our treatment of post-appeal motions for a new trial. It articulated society's justified interest in finality that has long been implicit, and sometimes explicit, in our announcements that any late-arriving issue will prevail only if the issue presents a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice."

So all the justices believe that there is no "substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice" here. What lack of evidence? What scientific evidence of brainwashing?

There were clowns and elephants everywhere, hanging naked from the trees while Gerald took photos that no one has ever seen because Cheryl hexed them away!

The political system, for some reason, has circled the wagons around this case. The Amirault attorney has three options: He can appeal to real judges in the federal courts, he can begin working toward a "pardon" from the governor, or he can throw Cheryl in Salem Harbor. According to longstanding Massachusetts judicial tradition, if she sinks, she's innocent.

Despite the weight of their appalling indifference to justice, the prosecutors and the SJC would float. When a mistake becomes a persecution, it takes on the appearance of genuine evil, and we all know there is evil in the world, for sure.

Read Dorothy Rabinowitz's column in the Wall Street Journal

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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