Baker pardons siblings over controversial 1980s Fells Acre child sex abuse case

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Baker pardons siblings over controversial 1980s Fells Acre child sex abuse case
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Crime

Governor Charlie Baker said he doubted the “evidence” of the convictions.

Gérald Amirault (center) gives his daughter Gerrilyn Amirault (left) a kiss, with his wife Patti Amirault (right) by his side during a press conference in 2004. Globe team photo, David Kamerman

Governor Charlie Baker has pardoned the two Amirault siblings who were convicted of child sex abuse in the 1980s in the long-discussed Fells Acre daycare case.

Gérald Amirault, 68, and his sister, Cheryl Amirault Lefave, 65, were accused of sexually molesting more than a dozen children at their Malden daycare center in 1984, but have always maintained their innocence.

The case has long been controversial due to questionable techniques used by investigators to elicit accusations from the children.

Amirault was convicted in 1986 and spent 18 years in prison before being released on parole in 2004, according to GBH. Amirault Lefave was convicted in 1987 and served eight years in prison and another 10 on probation.

Violet Amirault, the siblings’ mother who opened the daycare in 1966, was also convicted in the 1987 trial and served eight years in prison, GBH reported. She died a few months after her release.

“The investigations and prosecutions of the Amiraults in the 1980s proceeded without the benefit of scientific studies which have, in the meantime, led to the widespread adoption of investigative protocols designed to protect objectivity and reliability of child sexual abuse investigations,” Baker said. in a press release about the pardons.

“Given the absence of these protections in these cases, and like many others who have reviewed the record of these convictions over the years, including legal experts, social scientists and even several judges charged with examine the cases, I remain with serious doubts as to the probative force of these convictions.To the standard we demand of our justice system, Gérald Amirault and Cheryl Amirault Lefave should be pardoned.

The Fells Acre Nursery Case

The Boston Herald reported that the case began when a 5-year-old boy told his uncle over Labor Day weekend 1984 that “Tooky” molested him. “Tooky” turned out to be Gérald Amirault, who worked as a bus driver, cook, and assistant director at the daycare.

Amirault was arrested on September 5 and the daycare closed a week later on Herald reported. The following year, the three Amiraults would be charged with assaulting more than a dozen children.

At Amirault’s 1986 trial, jurors heard testimony from 10 parents, including a mother. “If only the jurors could spend a day at my house and see how my son acts, they would know that [Amirault] is guilty”, the Herald reported.

Witnesses also said Amirault dressed up as a ‘mean clown’ who played disgusting sex games and abused children in a room he kept locked up on the second floor of the Bower Street house that housed daycare, the Herald reported. Others testified that he took pictures of the children as they dressed and undressed.

Nine children will also testify against Amirault, the Herald reported, but crucially, there was no physical evidence of the abuse.

Case review

Amirault’s defense attorney, Frank Mondano, argued during the trial that investigators used “coercive techniques” to get other children to describe allegations similar to that of the first boy, the Herald reported.

GBH reported that critics of the case allege investigators used leading questions to plant false memories in children’s minds.

The case unfolded at a time when child sexual abuse cases were skyrocketing, Herald reported. Some lawyers and psychologists have attributed this increase to the introduction of questioning techniques that can induce false memories.

In 1995, critics’ accusations grew stronger when The Boston Globe reported that videotapes and transcripts of the investigators’ interviews with the children showed the children saying they had not been abused, only for the interviewer to plead with them and pressure them into saying they had been abused.

Sometimes, according to the story, interviewers even gave children gifts for giving the “correct” answer.

What has happened since

The state parole board voted to release Amirault from prison in 2002, but acting governor Jane Swift refused to commute his sentence, GBH reported. Former Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley also opposed her switching while serving as Middlesex County District Attorney. Neither provided comment to the news station on Friday.

Former Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly also successfully fought legal challenges to Amirault’s conviction when he served as the Middlesex County District Attorney, the World reported.

“While I support the decisions made at the time by the prosecutors, the judge and the jury, I believe the governor’s decision is a fitting end to a very troubled case,” Reilly told the Herald Friday.

Both Violet and Amirault Lefave were granted a new trial by a judge in 1995, but Violet’s charges were dropped after her death, and Amirault Lefave reached a settlement with Coakley which restored her convictions but kept her out of jail, GBH reported.

The World reported that he was unable to reach any of the Fells Acre victims or relatives to comment on the pardons on Friday.

What pardons would mean for the Amiraults

Jamie Sultan, the Amiraults’ lawyer, told GBH that a pardon would have a significant impact on the Amiraults’ lives, even though they are both out of prison and have already been damaged by the sentence for decades.

“The Amiraults and their whole family, they live with that — that badge, that stigma of being convicted of child molesters every day of their lives,” Sultan said.

“Gerald is still on parole now. Thirty-eight years after these accusations, he still wears an ankle bracelet. He is still subject to extremely strict parole conditions. He is still polygraphed every two months. He cannot travel. He and his wife cannot travel to places they have always wanted to travel to. And he’s on the sex offender registry for life because of that unjust conviction.

It is now up to the Governor’s Council to approve the pardons. He has yet to turn down any of Baker’s pardons, but this is by far the most publicized and controversial pardon to come before him.

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