The Wall Street Journal
Monday, October 20, 2003
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
Gerald Amirault's Day
The end of Gerald Amirault's long struggle for freedom is in sight. A Massachusetts parole board saw to that with a unanimous decision on Friday granting his petition for release -- officially set to occur at the end of April.
It was a joyous day for this prisoner of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, behind bars since his conviction, in 1986, as a molester of nursery school children in a case based on bogus testimony dragged from browbeaten child witnesses. It was an exultant day too for his family, which has kept its hopes up despite years of having them dashed.
Mr. Amirault's freedom could have been derailed by one factor of consequence to Department of Corrections parole boards -- namely the prisoner's refusal to agree that he was guilty. Like his mother and sister, who were also wrongly accused but were released earlier, Mr. Amirault refused to attend sex offender classes despite what it could cost him. They refused to do anything that would suggest there was any merit to the charges against them.
It no doubt helped that two of the three members of the parole board had also served on the Governor's Board of Pardons, which had earlier commuted Mr. Amirault's sentence, only to be overruled by former Governor Jane Swift, who was then hopelessly scrambling to win re-election. The pair were also among the signers of a statement that there were "real and substantial doubts" about the merits of the Amirault prosecutions.
By now, too, the recognition that this prosecution -- and other child abuse cases like it around the country -- was built on concocted testimony has become widespread. So widespread that it is now the sort of thing studied in colleges and universities. The 49-year-old Mr. Amirault is about to finish his liberal arts degree in prison. Not long ago he had the surprising experience of opening a sociology textbook, and finding there -- in a list of hysteria-driven prosecutions -- the Amirault case. Things have certainly come far since the day he was carted off to do 30-40 years, a despised cast-off from society.
The parole board noted Friday that Mr. Amirault had been convicted of serious crimes and served 17 years -- and that this was surely enough to satisfy justice. In fact, justice would have been better served had this prosecution never been brought, and if the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts had not repeatedly and blatantly upheld the prosecutors even in the face of overwhelming, documented evidence that the testimony had been manufactured.
No less than three criminal court judges who knew the case had called for the Amiraults' convictions to be reversed. Justice would have been served if Violet Amirault, the proud principal of Fells Acres Day School, still headed the most esteemed nursery school in Malden, Massachusetts.
Amid the rejoicing on Friday, there was no lack of awareness of the possibility that something might yet go wrong. Under Massachusetts law, Middlesex County District Attorney Martha Coakley could still try to have Mr. Amirault committed, parole notwithstanding, as a Sexually Dangerous Person. Someone so classified is required to live in a treatment facility for sex offenders until the state deems that person may go free. Fortunately, the chances that Ms. Coakley will do so appear to be slim.
The six months left until April 30 aren't much of a wait to a man already imprisoned 17 years -- although, if the DA officially declares she has no intention of trying to commit him as sexually dangerous, the wait could be much shorter. Gerald Amirault could then conceivably be home for Christmas with the wife and now grown children who have kept so long and faithful a vigil.
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