The Telegram & Gazette
Worcester, Mass.
Thursday, September 16, 1999

Justice waits
Retrial a must in Fells Acres case

In an unprecedented departure from past editorial policy, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly has directly challenged the Supreme Judicial Court decisions in the notorious Fells Acres child abuse case.

Three family members who operated the Malden day care center were convicted in the midst of a nationwide hysteria over alleged sexual abuse in day care. There is compelling reason to believe their convictions were a miscarriage of justice.

Cheryl Amirault LeFave was convicted in 1987 along with her mother, Violet Amirault, who died in 1997 at age 74. Gerald Amirault was convicted in a separate trial in 1986.

The SJC now is considering the Amiraults' petition for a retrial.

The reliability of the testimony of the children, ages 2 to 4, was in doubt from the start -- replete with bizarre tales of evil clowns, animal sacrifices and other atrocities for which no physical evidence or corroborating testimony was ever produced.

Moreover, there was evidence that suggestive questioning by some parents and investigators had tainted the testimony hopelessly.

Nonetheless, the SJC twice has upheld the convictions and rejected requests for a new trial, largely on procedural grounds. Despite psychologists' new insights into "implanted memory," the court has held that the reliability issue was addressed adequately by the lower courts.

The Lawyers Weekly has called upon Gov. Paul Cellucci to pardon the two surviving family members and, ultimately, that may be the only option.

At the very least, in the name of justice the SJC should grant their petition for a rehearing of this tragic case.

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