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Continued from Part 1

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bullet "Of all the miscarriages of justice committed during the era of hysteria over child sex abuse, the Amirault case is by far the worst. The evidence that convicted him was preposterous. The methods used to browbeat tiny tots into producing it have been thoroughly discredited. His innocence has been obvious for years. Yet a succession of prosecutors, judges and state governors (to say nothing of the media) did their best to keep him rotting." Margaret Wente, newspaper commentator 1

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A second appeal:

Ms Amirault and LeFave had been free for almost 2 years, after serving 8 years of an 8-20 year sentence. A hearing was held on 1997-MAY-5 in front of Middlesex Superior Court Judge Robert Barton. Included would have been a motion by the prosecution to return the women to prison, a two motions by the defense: one for a new trial and another to keep the women free on bail. Judge Barton said that the two Amirault women "did not receive a fair trial and justice was not done...The substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice has been established...I believe I cannot be fair and impartial considering the three motions before this court." He then recused himself from the case. A new judge was sought.

The Amiraults hired a new lawyer, Daniel Williams. He had won an appeal for Kelly Michaels. (Kelly was convicted in 1988 on 115 counts of sexual assault against 20 of her nursery students - a case very similar to Fells Acres. Her conviction was overturned in 1996). On 1997-MAY-9, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Isaac Borenstein overturned the convictions of Violet and Cheryl, and ordered a new trial. The ground for the appeal was that the Amiraults received ineffective assistance of counsel at their first trial. Williams was able to produce affidavits of the two original trial lawyers who admitted that they had made a mistake by not objecting to the placement of the child witnesses during the trial. Judge Borenstein wrote that the Amirault women would have been granted a new trial 10 years ago if they had effective lawyers at the time, and that the Massachusetts Supreme Court had not resolved the issue of effective assistance of counsel."

Middlesex County DA Thomas Reilly has decided to appeal the decision. He really had no choice. His only other option would be to order a new trial that he would be almost certain to lose. A great deal of knowledge is now available about the ease with which false memories can be implanted in children. Since the original trial, the frequency of vaginal irregularities in non-abused girls has been determined. At any new trial, the prosecution would be unable to bring forward any convincing evidence that any abuse actually happened. And without any proof that criminal action occurred, the defendants can hardly be found guilty of wrongdoing. Thus a new trial would almost certainly result in their acquittal.

Violet Amirault died of cancer on 1997-SEP-12 at the age of 74. 2 She was being cared for by her daughter. She was visited by Wall Street Journal reporter Dorothy Rabinowitz two days before her death. Rabinowitz said "Surely, this horror she lived through had to contribute to her death. Everything she had was taken from her." A parent of a child involved in the case commented: "Her death doesn't make any difference. She was found guilty of molesting children. There's no witch hunt. This woman messed with kids' minds."

Reilly's appeal of the new trial order was scheduled to be argued in early 1997-DEC. But the defense attorney, James Sultan announced that he had developed new evidence that would provide additional grounds for a new trial. 3 Maggie Bruck, a Canadian specialist in child interview techniques, has stated in an affidavit that the interview methods used in the Amirault case "have a substantial risk of producing unreliable and false reports from young preschool children.''  Dr. Bruck is the co-author of perhaps the most important recent book on this topic, published by the American Psychological Association. 4 The high court decided to send the case back to Superior Court Judge Isaac Borenstein for another hearing during which the new evidence could be studied.

On 1998-APR-14, Judge Borenstein asked Assistant District Attorney Lynn Rooney if there was any evidence (physical or behavioral) which indicated any type of sexual abuse at Fells Acres, and which could be dated to before 1984-SEP-4, when the first allegations were made. Lynn Rooney was only able to come up with a medical record which of one girl student. It showed that she had two minor urinary infections: one sometime in 1982 and the other in 1984-JUN. That is the sum total of all the physical evidence that the Middlesex DA office had come up with!

Judge Borenstein ruled in 1998-JUN-18 that Cheryl Amirault should be granted a new trial because of new scientific findings. He commented: "Overzealous and inadequately trained investigators, perhaps unaware of the grave dangers of using improper interviewing and investigative techniques, questioned these children and their parents in a climate of panic, if not hysteria, creating a highly prejudicial and irreparable set of mistakes. These grave errors led to the testimony of the children being forever tainted." This was the first time that a U.S. trial court has ruled that new scientific findings about dangerous child interview techniques constitute new evidence that justifies a new trial. None of the original child witnesses would be allowed to testify in the new trial, because their testimony has been "forever tainted" by faulty interview techniques in the late 1980's. Judge Borenstein commented: "There are so many examples in the evidence of this case of the improper procedures that it would take days to go through them."

Again, the state appealed the latest ruling to the Supreme Judicial Court. In mid-1999-AUG, they overturned Borenstein's ruling. Cheryl prepared to return to prison. Probably all she would have had to do to gain her freedom would be to say that she was guilty of the charges. But this would wipe out any future chance of Gerald Amirault being released. It would also violate the memory of her mother. And, of course, it would be a lie.

The False Memory Syndrome Foundation collected some media editorials about the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's decision to send Cheryl Amirault back to prison. 

bullet Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, 1999-SEP-13, Page 28 M.L.W. 2992: "The Amirault prosecutions took place in an atmosphere of hysteria. At the time, 'children don't lie' was the battle cry for the prosecutors and anti-abuse activists. It wasn't until years later that empirical research became clear and society began to understand how easy it is to plant ideas in a child's head and how improperly suggestive the earlier investigative tactics had been...In six different decisions in the Amirault cases, the SJC has seemed determined to defend the prosecutors and insist that these defendants belong behind bars. Virtually scoffing at any possibility that an injustice may have been done, the justices have been unyielding in their refusal to let a new trial take place to present scientific testimony that wasn't well-developed at the time of the original trials."
bullet Ed Hayward, Boston Herald, 1999-SEP-29: "In the past, the roadblock to LeFave's release has been the requirement she admit guilt, which she refuses to do. LeFave and her mother and her brother, Gerald 'Tooky' Amirault, have maintained their innocence since the case made national headlines in 1985 amid a series of alleged day care sex abuse cases."
bullet Sacha Pfeiffer, Boston Globe, 1999-AUG-21: " 'We will never know what happened at Fells Acres, just like the communities that suffered through the other multiple abuse cases...will never know with certainty if the defendants were guilty or innocent,' said Boston lawyer Martin Weinberg, director of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. 'But in a democracy, unlike in an accusatory system, when there's uncertainty citizens remain free. It's the fundamental notion of our nation's heritage, and I think that's been challenged in this community.'
bullet Editorial, Christian Science Monitor, 1999-AUG-23: "The supreme judicial court of Massachusetts last week could have ended perhaps the commonwealth's worst miscarriage of justice since the Sacco and Vanzetti trial of the 1920s. Sadly, it did not."
bullet Dorothy Rabinowitz, Wall Street Journal, 1999-AUG-24: "The opinion is a telling document, as much for what the judges left out as for what they put in. Indeed, a reader who came to it knowing nothing about this prosecution would have been hard put to find in this decision any of the reasons this case had won such notoriety; nothing of the frenzied interrogations, the mad  pleadings of interviewers exhorting children to tell, of the process by which small children were schooled in details of torments and sexual assaults supposedly inflicted on them in secret rooms-matters, the record of these interviews reveals, that the children clearly knew nothing about.
bullet Jack Sullivan, Boston Herald, 1999-AUG-25: "[T]hese women did not receive a fair trial." 
bullet Tom Kirchofer,  Associated Press Newswires, 1999-AUG-19: "We're talking about 15 years for a sentence I intended to be less than six. That's kooky," said Sullivan [Judge John Paul Sullivan who sentenced the Amiraults to eight to 20 years in jail with the understanding they would likely be paroled in less than six years."
bullet Jack Sullivan, Boston Herald, 1999-AUG-25: "'The court is left with an abiding conviction that justice was not done,' Borenstein [the second judge to order a new trial] said at the time.
bullet Sacha Pfeiffer, Boston Globe, 1999-AUG-21: "'One thing that is absolutely clear is that this outcome had nothing to do with the Amiraults,' said Thomas G. Gutheil, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who has testified in numerous abuse cases. 'It can only be about the political and judicial system here.'"
Judge Paul Chernoff herd a motion that Cheryl LeFave's sentence be reduced to time served. The prosecution did not oppose the motion. He ruled that Ms. LeFave did not have to return to prison. 5

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Developments during the year 2000:

bullet 2000-APR-18: Tied in with the fate of Cheryl is that of Gerald Amirault. His lawyer, Daniel Williams, had felt that if the 1998-JUN ruling by Judge Borenstein held, then Gerald Amirault might have been able to try a similar appeal. On 2000-APR-18, Gerald's lawyers asked Governor Paul Cellucci to reduce his 30 to 40 year sentence to time served (14 years). 
bullet 2000-JUL-20:  Anne Abernathy of Shawnee OK committed suicide a few hours after her mother died of natural causes.  Before she died, Anne changed her will to cut twelve individuals -- mostly relatives -- out of her will. She directed that her estate be equally split between two families that she had never met: The Miami FL relatives of Elian Gonzalez and the Amiraults. On 2001-JAN-3, a judge decided to not allow her will to be entered into probate. District Judge Glenn Dale Carter wrote that she suffered psychotic persecutorial delusions at the time that she wrote the new will. "...she had a delusion that she was the subject of a government conspiracy and the court found that she thought the Gonzalezes and Amiraults were also victims of the government conspiracy and therefore left her estate to those two families." She also thought that Satanists and Nazis were out to get her. The Gonzalezes and Amiraults appealed the ruling to the state Supreme
Court in 2001-FEB. In a surprise twist, a settlement was reached in 2001-APR between the family of Anne Katherine Abernathy, the Gonzalezes and the Amirault family. All will share in the $500,000 estate.

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Continued in Part 3

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References used:

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Copyright 1997 to 2003 incl., by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2003-OCT-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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