Swift defends decision to reject commutation for convicted child abuser
By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press, 2/20/02
BOSTON -- Acting Gov. Jane M. Swift defended her decision to deny commutation for Gerald "Tooky" Amirault in a case she said raised two "horrifying nightmares:" the sexual abuse of children or the possible jailing of an innocent man.
In the end, Swift said she sided with the jury and against the Parole Board, which voted unanimously in July to recommend Amirault's sentence be commuted.
His family vowed to continue to fight to free him.
Swift said she and her legal team reviewed about 100 cases of child abuse before making the decision to keep Amirault, convicted in one of the most notorious mass child-abuse cases of the 1980s, behind bars. He has served nearly 16 years of a 30- to 40-year sentence.
"This decision was always going to be a no-win decision," Swift said. "Ultimately I needed to be able to live with myself."
Amirault was convicted in 1986 of molesting and raping nine children at the family run Fells Acres day care center in Malden. His sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, and his late mother, Violet Amirault, were convicted in a separate trial.
Swift said she considered several factors in making her decision, including whether Amirault would be a danger, the effects on victims and their families if he were released, the length of his sentence and his rehabilitative activities while behind bars.
"When you're innocent, what effort can you make to rehabilitate?" Amirault's wife, Patti, said at a news conference, accompanied by her family, including Amirault's sister, Cheryl.
"He should not have to say he's guilty in order to move on," she said. "He will maintain his innocence, if it means the last day of the 40th year."
Swift's legal staff interviewed more than 35 people on both sides of the case and decided that a sentence of two to three years for the assaults against each of the children was fair. Amirault was convicted of eight charges of rape of a child and seven counts of indecent assault on a child against a total of nine victims.
Amirault is eligible for parole in March 2004, when he will have served 17 1/2 years.
Swift faces re-election in the fall. She said she was not motivated by politics or swayed by the wave of recent child abuse allegations against the Archdiocese of Boston in making her decision.
Patti Amirault said she spoke to her husband, who was "devastated" but strong. She said she thought Swift would rely on the Parole Board's recommendation.
The board issued a written statement Wednesday saying it respected Swift's decision.
The Amiraults' attorney, James Sultan, said the family is looking at three options: to seek early parole, to appeal his sentence or try to get a new trial. They said they'd decide in coming weeks which to pursue.
Jennifer Bennett, who testified against Amirault at his trial, said she supports Swift's decision. Bennett, 23, said she was just 3 1/2 years old when she was sexually assaulted by Amirault.
"He touched me in places where no man should touch a young innocent child," said the Malden resident and mother of two. "It destroyed my life. I never had a childhood. I was in and out of courtrooms. To this day I can't stand to look at a clown."
Harriet Dell'Anno, who said her daughter was victimized at Fells Acres, said she was also pleased with Swift's decision.
"I wish he would rot away in jail," Dell'Anno said. "He did what he did and he shouldn't have done it and he's where he belongs."
The Amiraults said they were victims of sex abuse hysteria that swept the country in the 1980s and questionable testimony from child witnesses.
"We welcome scrutiny in this case," Patti Amirault said.
A number of mass child abuse convictions have been overturned, the Little Rascals day care center in Edenton, N.C., and the McMartin Preschool in Los Angeles being among the most notorious.
After the parole board recommended Tooky Amirault's commutation, the victims, now adults, identified themselves and stood by their testimony.
The Parole Board was not allowed to revisit the question of Amirault's guilt, but only considered whether he has improved himself in prison and whether his sentence was unfair.
Since 1990, the Parole Board has recommended 13 inmates for commutation. Of those, seven were granted pardons.