Witness praises Amirault decision
By John Ellement, Globe Staff, 2/23/2002
CAMBRIDGE - Jen Bennett wants to give Acting Governor Jane Swift a bear hug in appreciation, and she wants Gerald Amirault to admit he sexually abused her when she attended the Fells Acres Day Care Center in Malden in the 1980s.
Bennett was one of nine children who testified against Amirault during his three-month trial in 1986, which ended with his conviction on multiple rape and molestation charges. He was sentenced to 30 to 40 years in prison.
Bennett spoke out yesterday about Swift's refusal this week to commute Amirault's prison sentence, a decision denounced by Amirault supporters as politically motivated and unjust. They contend that no one was sexually abused at the day care center and that Gerald Amirault is a wrongly convicted man.
''I just want to give her a great, big hear hug,'' Bennett said of Swift.
As for Amirault, ''I want to say to Mr. Amirault: Admit your guilt, you did this. He is where he is supposed to be. I will fight against you to the end. He destroyed my childhood.''
Harriett Dell'Anno, whose daughter was one of the victims, echoed Bennett's insistence that children were sexually violated and also thanked Swift for keeping Amirault in prison. Had she coached her daughter to falsely accuse Amirault, or had she allowed investigators to coerce her daughter into making false claims, Dell'Anno said she would deserve to be in prison.
Of the sexual abuse, she said simply, ''It happened.''
Laurence Hardoon, who was the trial prosecutor, said yesterday the preschool age of the witnesses did inject some inaccurate information into the inquiry. But, he said, mistaken memories by some of the children accounted for at most 5 percent of the information against the Amiraults.
Hardoon also said the quality of the investigation and the actions of prosecutors, police, and social workers working with the children were all scrutinized intensely during Gerald Amirault's trial - and still the jury convicted.
He said Amirault supporters are focusing on 2 percent of the children's claims that ''seem inexplicable and they are conveniently ignoring the 98 percent of the case that was overwhelming'' against Amirault.
Amirault's sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, and their late mother, Violet Amirault, were convicted in a separate trial. Both women were later released on appeal.
Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley, who inherited the case from former district attorneys Scott Harshbarger and Thomas F. Reilly, said Amirault's insistence that he is innocent does not make it true.
She drew a parallel between John Geoghan, the former Catholic priest sentenced to 9 to 10 years in prison Thursday for molesting a child. Like Amirault, Geoghan insisted that he, too, was innocent, she said.
''Admitting to child abuse is a very difficult and often, a never-seen thing,'' she said. Coakley said it was time for Amirault and his supporters to end their pursuit of an early release from prison so that the victims can finally begin to fully heal from the trauma he caused them as children.
A spokeswoman for Swift, Sarah Magazine, repeated that the acting governor made her decision knowing that ''there are strong feelings on both sides of this issue.
Full story here.
And from the Chief Prosecutor of both Amirault trials, Larry Hardoon:
Letters to the Editor: The Real Darkness Is Child Abuse
WALL STREET JOURNAL (J) 02/24/95
Copyright (c) 1995
As the chief prosecutor of both of the Amirault cases I am writing to prevent the public from being misled into believing that an injustice occurred as Dorothy Rabinowitz alleges in her Jan. 30 editorial-page piece "A Darkness in Massachusetts."
Her suggestion that the convictions were based on "some of the most fantastic claims ever presented" presumptuously ignores the reality of the cases. The three Amiraults -- Gerald, Violet and Cheryl – were convicted after two trials before different judges and juries almost one year apart. They were represented by able and well-known defense counsel. The convictions were upheld after review by state and federal appellate courts. The McMartin case in California was the result of a botched legal system and Kelly Michaels's conviction was overturned because of legal errors. Contrary to Ms. Rabinowitz's implication, the Amirault convictions were neither of these.
The first trial involving Gerald Amirault lasted a record three and a half months. Nine children and their parents testified and were subject to extensive cross-examination. The second trial of Violet and Cheryl Amirault involved five children. The entire proceedings were public and extensively covered by the media.
The children testified to being photographed and molested by acts that included penetration by objects. To the average person unfamiliar with the gruesome-ness of child pornography, the allegations of penetration by objects seem bizarre. The testimony of a postal inspector experienced in child pornography was properly admitted to educate the jury regarding the plausibility of the children's testimony.
The overturned order of the trial judge changing Violet and Cheryl Amirault's sentences five years after they were imposed was nothing more than a political squabble between the judge and the parole board over who dictates the appropriate release time for convicts. Violet Amirault was convicted of threats to commit a crime and Cheryl Amirault was convicted of assault and battery for acts committed while in prison. These subsequent convictions may have played a role in the decision of the parole board to deny parole.
Amirault was handled differently from cases in other parts of the country. The initial investigation and interviewing of the children was divided among different investigators, contrary to the assertion in the story that the allegations were developed through one pediatric nurse. Uniquely similar disclosures came from children with no connection of any kind to each other who were handled by different teams of investigators. Many children involved in the prosecution were from families who were initially hostile or skeptical toward the prosecution. Only after these children made unexpected disclosures directly to parents did they join the prosecution effort. The implication in the article that the children's allegations of abuse were tainted by improper interviewing is groundless and not true.
Studies show, as did testimony from a nationally recognized pediatric gynecologist, that most sexually molested young children have absolutely normal physical examinations. However, in Amirault, the majority of the female children who testified had some relevant physical findings, as did several female children involved in the investigation who did not participate in the trial. The findings included labial adhesions and hymenal scarring of the sort present in a very small percentage of non-sexually abused children.
The defendants had a full and fair opportunity to present any evidence they wanted the jury to consider. Although it has no significance in a court of law due to the presumption of innocence and the right against self-incrimination, the choice by Violet and Cheryl Amirault not to testify in their own behalf at trial can certainly be the subject of conjecture by the public at large. They passed up the single most important opportunity they had to tell their story. Isn't this fact, unmentioned by Ms. Rabinowitz, something the public ought to know?
The investigation and handling of these cases was not flawless. In 1984, when the Amirault case began, law enforcement was just beginning to cope with the explosion of sexual abuse into the criminal-justice system. Improvements have been implemented since then, many of which had their inception in that case. Today, there are still more innovations that can be implemented by the judicial system to make the process fairer to both the children and the defendants in these cases.
Ms. Rabinowitz's article is a superficial, one-sided look at a case handled extensively and carefully by the legal system. The victims and their families in these cases have been irrevocably harmed by what was done to them by the Amiraults. Every argument raised by Ms. Rabinowitz was ably presented by the defense at the trials. The juries, by their verdicts, rejected these arguments. Justice was done.
Laurence E. Hardoon