BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts Statehouse panel is weighing whether to approve Gov. Charlie Baker’s recommended pardons of two individuals at the center of one the nation’s most high-profile sexual abuse trials of the 1980s.
Gerald “Tooky” Amirault, his sister Cheryl Amirault LeFave and their late mother, Violet, were convicted in 1986 and 1987 of abusing young children at their Fells Acres Day Care in Malden.
The two did not appear at Tuesday’s public hearing held by the Governor’s Council, which must approve the pardon requests.
James Sultan, who represents the Amiraults, compared the Fells Acres case to the Salem Witch Trials, saying his clients were the subject of a wave of hysteria.
Sultan said the children who testified against the Amiraults were subjected to what he called “blatant manipulation” by investigators. He said the investigative techniques used at the time would never be allowed now.
“This is a textbook example” of how not to conduct such an investigation, Sultan said.
“We were in the dark ages back in the 1980s about how to question children in a non-suggestive way,” he added.
The young children talked about being led into a “secret room,” tied to trees naked and that Gerald Amirault abused them while dressed as a clown, Sultan said.
The Amiraults have long argued that they were victims of a sex abuse hysteria that swept the country in the 1980s and questionable testimony from child witnesses.
Gerald Amirault served 18 years in prison, was released, and wears an ankle bracelet to monitor his movements. He remains on the state’s sex offender registry.
LeFave received an eight- to 20-year sentence, but was released in 1995, having served 8 1/2 years. Violet Amirault was also released in 1995. She died of cancer two years later.
Laurence Hardoon, who helped prosecute the Fells Acres case, said he fears that if the Amiraults win a pardon, children in future cases of sexual abuse may not be listened to.
“It will cast a pall over other children who will not be believed,” he said. “It will be used that way.”
Hardoon said the arguments being made in defense of the Amiraults now were the same that were made at trial in the 1980s.
He also rejected the argument that parents and those investigating the case implanted false memories in children at the day care center.
“Frankly it’s patently absurd. No parent would do that,” he said. “The interviews of the children that took place was always done at home in low key surroundings. Parents were there.”
Gerald Amirault’s wife Patty described her husband as a “good-to-the-core” man who was the victim of false accusations which changed their lives in an instant. She said they have been married 45 years and have three children.
“My husband would never hurt another being, let alone a child,” she said. “Those kids at that school were our kids. We raised them. We would never hurt them.”
In making the pardon recommendations, Baker said the investigation of the Amiraults occurred without “the benefit of scientific studies that have in the intervening years led to widespread adoption of investigative protocols designed to protect objectivity and reliability in the investigation of child sex abuse cases.”
“I am left with grave doubt regarding the evidentiary strength of these convictions,” he added.