Fourteen years after he was convicted of molesting children
at his family's Malden day-care center, Gerald "Tooky" Amirault
will appear next month before the state's Advisory Board of Pardons, which has taken the
unusual step of scheduling a public hearing on Amirault's request that his sentence be
The hearing raises the possibility that Amirault, the last
member of his family to remain imprisoned for convictions stemming from the infamous Fells Acres child sex-abuse case,
could be freed after spending nearly 15 years in prison.
A commutation, which would need to be approved by the
governor and the Governor's Council, is the only way Amirault could be freed any time soon.
Since being sentenced in 1986, Amirault, 46, has lost three
appeals of his conviction, once in Middlesex Superior Court and twice before the state Supreme Judicial Court. He is not
eligible for parole until 2006.
His mother, Violet Amirault, and sister, Cheryl LeFave, were
convicted in 1987 and sentenced to eight to 20 years, but were freed on appeal in 1995.
The Advisory Board of Pardons, which comprises the same
members as the state Parole Board, released a statement yesterday saying that the Sept. 20 hearing had been scheduled
"in the interest of fairness and in light of the treatment of the petitioner's co-defendants within the judicial system."
Parole Board spokeswoman Alberta Cook declined to comment
further, saying that "the statement speaks for itself."
Violet Amirault died of cancer three years ago. And last
year, after the SJC reinstated LeFave's conviction, both her attorneys and the Middlesex district attorney's office, which
had prosecuted the case, agreed that she would not be returned to prison.
At a press conference yesterday, Gerald Amirault's attorney,
James L. Sultan, called the board's decision to schedule a hearing "an incredibly important step on this long journey to
rectify this grievous injustice."
But the Middlesex district attorney's office, which called
Amirault's conviction and sentence "appropriate," said it would oppose commutation.
"When there are endless appeals and other proceedings, the
wounds are constantly reopened," Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley said in a statement yesterday. "There have been
many such occasions during the pendency of this case. As a result, the trauma suffered by the victims ... may never go
The Amirault family was thrust into the public eye in 1984,
when Violet Amirault; her son, Gerald; and daughter, Cheryl, were charged with raping and assaulting children at Fells Acres
Day School, the child-care center they ran in Malden.
The resulting trials, during which child witnesses described
talking robots and the public torture of animals, contributed to a national debate about the reliability of child testimony,
and the prosecution of sexual abuse of children.
Sultan said he will make three main arguments for the
commutation of Gerald Amirault's sentence: that his conviction amounted to a "grave injustice" because testimony by child
witnesses was tainted by overly suggestive questioning by investigators; that his 30- to 40-year sentence is "way off the
map" when compared with convictions for similar offenses, which Sultan said average four to 10 years; and that Amirault
is a "terrific parent, a terrific husband, and a model prisoner."
Once the Advisory Board of Pardons hears Amirault's petition, it will make a written recommendation to
Governor Paul Cellucci, who has the power to grant or deny commutation. Cellucci's recommendation must
then be ratified by the Governor's Council.
A spokeswoman for Cellucci said yesterday that the governor
"will give the request proper consideration once it reaches his desk."
Accompanying Sultan at yesterday's press conference were
Gerald Amirault's wife, Patty; his daughters Katie, 20, and Gerrilyn, 21; his sister, Cheryl; and several other family
members. Amirault also has a 15-year-old son, P.J., who was not present.
Patty Amirault acknowledged that a commutation would not
clear her husband's name, but said, "At this point, we'll take him home any way we can.
"We know he's innocent and we want him home with us so we
can pick up and move on with our lives," she added.
But while family members expressed optimism yesterday,
clemency remains a long shot.
Of the 250 commutation petitions received by the Advisory
Board of Pardons in the past 10 years, only 29 hearings were granted and only 13 favorable recommendations were made to the
governor. Ultimately, only seven commutations were granted.
Sultan said that Amirault underwent a "sexual dangerousness
evaluation" this spring that found that he is "perfectly normal and his release would not be a danger to anyone."
Sultan also said that while the Supreme Judicial Court had
"slammed the door in our face every time," Amirault's pursuit of freedom is "winning in the court of public opinion."
The general public, Sultan said, acknowledges that there is
"something just rotten to the core about this case and these convictions."