In a decision that she began leaking late Tuesday and made official yesterday, Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift has denied Gerald Amirault's appeal for freedom. In so doing the acting governor refused to heed the unanimous recommendation of the Governor's Board of Pardons and Paroles, whose members six months ago unanimously voted for commutation on grounds that the sentence he received in this notorious child abuse case was "fundamentally unfair."
Yesterday's decision from Governor Swift came without commentary or explanation, other than the one she continued to repeat -- namely that, after a comprehensive review, she and her staff had decided that commutation was "not warranted." She could not say how she had come to her conclusion because she had promised "anonymity" to people who had come to argue against freedom for Gerald
This is fitting, in its own perverse way. The anonymity claim is a powerful reminder of how the Amiraults were prosecuted, in what has come to be known as the modern Salem witch trials: the hearsay testimony, the parade of accusers assured of complete anonymity, and prone to plead their cases on television disguised in wigs and dark glasses.
In all, the Governor departed from her script only once. That was when she told reporters that she and her aides had conducted a much more careful investigation than the parole board had. This opinion will certainly interest those experienced board professionals who so assiduously studied the case and Gerald Amirault's record. They also held open hearings, as opposed to the secret processes that guided the Governor.
As these columns have noted, this parole board has won a reputation as the toughest in the country. Its members include former prosecutors and law-enforcement types not given to easy sympathy. They came to their decision only after exhaustive investigation of the facts, pursued over months. And in the end they issued a commentary quite remarkable for a parole board.
They are not supposed to consider questions of guilt or innocence in their decision-making process, and they said they did not. But the parole board nonetheless felt it necessary to acknowledge "the real and substantial doubt" about the merits of the Amirault prosecution. The board also noted the "extraordinary, if not bizarre allegations" in this child abuse prosecution, and the fact that they mirrored others around the country, all since discredited.
The odor of politics is of course never far away from a decision such as this. And the appointed Governor Swift, confronting an uphill fight for election in her own right this autumn, faced a ferocious lobby of interest groups opposing Mr. Amirault's release. They included, not least, District Attorney Martha Coakley, who went to work to organize the families of the now adult accusers, after the parole board issued its decision in favor of commutation.
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 Boston-area uproar over the lax reaction by Catholic Cardinal Bernard Law to actual cases of abuse by priests no doubt made the Governor even less likely to shout down the prosecution lobby. But the cases could not be more different. In the Amirault case we were supposed to believe that overnight, after 20 years of blameless work with children at their school, a family all became pedophiles. The Catholic priest cases are all about alleged long-time offenders.
In bending to this politically correct posse, the Governor is of course not alone. She joins the long line of the ambitious and the self seeking, prosecutors and politicians, who chose expediency over justice. This line extends all the way to the members of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Thanks to a long and hard review of the evidence and persistent criticism, most of the legal establishment of Massachusetts has concluded it was all a terrible injustice -- one that has ruined the lives of three innocent people.
Gerald Amirault's lawyers will now move ahead with alternative plans, including a move for early parole, and possibly, a return to court. He has now been in prison for 16 years of his 30 to 40 year sentence. His quest for justice is far from over.