Given the fraught emotions that still surround the Fells Acres day-care case nearly 40 years after three members of the Amirault family were convicted of child sexual abuse, I thought The Boston Globe’s editorial was smart and nuanced.
The convictions of Gerald Amirault, his late mother, Violet Amirault, and his sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, have never been overturned despite multiple appeals, and several of the survivors continue to speak out about what they say they suffered at the day-care center the Amiraults ran. Gov. Charlie Baker’s last-minute bid to pardon them was inexplicable, and he was forced to withdraw his request in the face of a certain defeat at the hands of the Governor’s Council. The Globe covers that with a three-byline story here; and if you’re looking for a free link, WBUR.org has a pretty comprehensive report as well.
The Globe editorial cuts right to the heart of the matter: although a pardon is not an exoneration, the Amiraults’ supporters would surely take it as one, and that would be inappropriate:
Opponents of a pardon had feared, quite reasonably, that because the Amiraults have always proclaimed their innocence, any pardon would have been viewed as an official acceptance of their version of events, in which they were loving caregivers who were simply caught up in a hysterical moral panic. By implicitly calling the victims liars, a pardon on those grounds could have deterred victims in other cases from coming forward — “casting a pall over other children who will not be believed,” as Laurence Hardoon, the lead prosecutor in the case, said on Tuesday.
Over on the op-ed page, columnist Joan Vennochi adds:
Baker did not speak with the victims, or to Hardoon, who believed the children then, and still does. With that failure to reach out, the governor underestimated the power of their testimony and what victims like Jennifer Bennett — who was 3½ when she attended the day care center and is now 44 — believe to be true. The skeptics “can believe what they want. I know the truth. I was there, not them,” Bennett said during a break in the hearing.
Nearly every observer agrees that the case would not be investigated today as it was in the 1980s. Under repeated questioning, the children’s stories became more lurid over time, which is not surprising given that they were trying to process what had happened to them when they were as young as 3 or 4 years old. But that doesn’t mean they were brainwashed, as Dorothy Rabinowitz of The Wall Street Journal argued in a series of columns in the 1990s that served to reopen the case in the minds of the public. I wrote about Rabinowitz’s crusade in 1995 for The Boston Phoenix.
The Amiraults were in prison for a long time, and they’ve been free for a long time. We will never know with absolute certainty what happened at that day-care center, but they were not the victims of deranged prosecutors conducting a witch hunt. They received a fair trial in accordance with the best practices of that era. Enough.