and the
Citizens Economic Research Foundation

The Wall Street Journal
October 22, 1999


Cheryl Amirault Is Freed


On Tuesday Cheryl Amirault's attorneys were due to surrender their client for her return to prison--the result mandated by the decision made two months ago by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Justices Margaret Marshall (shortly thereafter appointed chief justice of the court), Roderick L. Ireland, John M. Greaney, Ruth I. Abrams and Neil L. Lynch signed the decision, written by departing Chief Justice Herbert P. Wilkins, reinstating Ms. Amirault's conviction, previously overturned by two lower-court judges.

The decision provoked an extraordinary outpouring of response in which the court stood accused, along with the prosecutors, of perpetrating a travesty of justice, as an editorial in the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly described it. The storm of reaction to this case and to the court itself--best exemplified, perhaps, by William Raspberry's Oct. 11 Washington Post column titled "Massachusetts's Mr. Magoo Court"--now comes from many quarters, within and outside the state.

On top of all this came this week's surrender date and the imminent spectacle of Cheryl Amirault in a courtroom again, this time to be ordered back to Framingham prison. That this scene was not played out was due mainly to the new Middlesex County District Attorney Martha Coakley--not around for the original prosecution of the Amirault case--who came to the conclusion that Ms. Amirault should serve no more time, and that Ms. Coakley would not oppose the motion to revise the sentence to time served.

Instead, she concluded that Ms. Amirault should be given 10 years probation. As indeed she was, by order of the court, and with the district attorney's consent, in a Boston courtroom yesterday morning.

It could not have been easy for the district attorney to come to this decision, given the passions and investment in this case on the prosecutors' side.

The prosecutor's difficulties were clearly evident in at least one of the stipulations she demanded in exchange for her agreement not to oppose the sentence revision--namely that Ms. Amirault not give any television interviews, though she could speak to print reporters and on the radio. Further, the district attorney herself and her staff would, according to this stipulation, also refuse to give television interviews on the case. This prohibition unsurprisingly provoked no little outrage among television reporters. Print journalists in turn confronted the judgment--implicit in this prohibition--about their relative lack of importance.

The conditions of the probation specify that Ms. Amirault cannot contact the supposed victims or their families, can have no unsupervised contact with children and must agree not to profit as a result of the crimes for which she was convicted.

The more serious stipulation of the agreement with the district attorney required Cheryl Amirault to give up all further court pursuits and efforts to overturn her conviction--a stipulation she and her lawyers agreed to. This agreement, they say, will have no negative impact on the most important effort still ahead--the case of her still-imprisoned brother, Gerald Amirault.

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