Massachusetts prosecutors, bent on keeping Gerald Amirault behind bars despite
the parole board's unanimous vote in favor of commutation, summoned local
reporters to a last-resort meeting of sorts last Thursday. The commonwealth
prosecutors had evidently come to the conclusion -- an indisputable one -- that
their side of the Amirault case had not been faring well in the press. This
state of affairs had come about,
District Attorney Martha Coakley informed
journalists, mainly because the Amiraults' victims had remained too much in the
the DA last week presented three former pupils -- now adults -- who
told of terrifying crimes supposedly committed against them by Violet, Cheryl
and Gerald Amirault at the Fells Acres Day School, and who voiced outrage at the
possibility of Gerald's release. It was, all in all, an occasion guaranteed to
attract coverage. Here, for the first time, the accusers spoke without cover of
the anonymity in which they lived, protected, from the beginning of their
involvement in this mid-1980s prosecution, down through the present.
Which is not to say that they had been silent. Over the years, as the nature of
this prosecution became known to the world -- and as the charges connected to
the case began crumbling -- the former plaintiffs had periodically emerged, to
declare the truth of their claims, and to say that they lived in terror of the
Amiraults. This they always did in disguise, their voices and faces altered for
TV interviews. More often, plaintiffs' mothers showed up swaddled in concealing
wigs, hats, and dark glasses.
The three accusers meeting the press last week were roughly four years old when
they were first interrogated by investigators looking for disclosures about
sexual assaults. One of the three was 21-year-old Brian Martinello, whose mother
gave reporters a new and enlarged list of abuse symptoms she had noticed in her
son 17 years ago -- details of how he had come home from Fells Acres with sores
on his penis, stories about penises in his mouth, even before investigations
began. All this, never mentioned at trial, must have come as news to those
acquainted with the case, the Amiraults' trial prosecutors included.
Her son Brian declared Gerald Amirault guilty of disgusting crimes, and told
reporters that it was "an absolute disgrace" to let such a person out of prison.
The investigators, who had so assiduously sought disclosures of the Amiraults'
crimes, would have been greatly relieved of their burdens, back in the mid '80s,
if they had encountered anything like such certitude when interrogating Brian
Martinello at age four. An age, like that of most Fells Acres children, at which
it was hard to figure out what the interrogators wanted them to say, what all
the questioning was about, and what bad things in their school they were
supposed to be afraid of. The boy would in due course learn, but his interview
record shows -- he was interrogated eight times in three weeks -- that it
was not easy going for investigators trying to build a case against the Amiraults.
"A bad guy called Steve" had taken them to Boston in a big black car, the child
informed them. Also, "Miss Vi" (Violet Amirault) had made him eat a frog, the
frog tasted like salad, and it went "quack-quack." Violet Amirault wore a wicked
witch dress, he told interrogators while jumping up and down on their couch, and
Miss Vi had scratched him with her fingernails and also stuck a knife inside
him. At the end of the session, the record shows, the boy asked to have someone
pin his junior police badge on.
Another of the former witnesses to come before the press, Phaedra Hopkins, had,
as a child, continued to deny that anyone had molested her at Fells Acres. This
denial, an interviewer notes, caused the child to be subjected to "much
prodding" by her mother. The child, in time, obliged with stories about the bad
things that had happened -- how she had been sitting in a classroom when one of
the Amiraults came to put a fork in her vagina, while another teacher looked on,
and more of the kind.
The most vocal of the former witnesses, Jennifer Bennett, wept and raged during
the press conference, the Boston Globe relates. She told how, as a child, she
had awakened screaming, thinking that her bed was on fire -- the punishment,
with which, she said, Violet, Cheryl and Gerald Amirault had threatened her if
she told about the attacks on her at Fells Acres.
In his 1988 Findings of Fact on the case, Judge Isaac Borenstein assessed the
way in which Jennifer Bennett first came to give accusing testimony against the
Amiraults. The way in which she was questioned stood, the Judge wrote, as "an
example of one of the most blatant, unfair and unreliable treatments of a child
by investigators." She had been subjected to parental pressure to disclose
abuse, to suggestive, coercive interviews, and play therapy. Though young
Jennifer adamantly denied any abuse, and there was no evidence of any,
interviewer Susan Kelley met with the parents and told them the child
needed psychiatric help, and that she had been molested. She told the child to come
back if she wanted to talk about the clown. She treated the child's denials as
though they had never taken place.
Interviewer Kelley employed peer pressure, the judge charged, by invoking her
school friend A.J., who she said, knew all about the clown and the magic room
and said that Jennifer knew about them too. When the child remained steadfast in
her denials of abuse, and contradicted A.J., interviewer Kelley's answer was, "I
believe her." A.J., she meant. When young Jennifer maintained that A.J. was the
one who was lying, Susan Kelley responded by asking, " Why would she lie?"
The child was subjected to repeated questioning, in order, the judge noted, to
get her to give the right answers. Four times the interviewer asked the girl if
she had ever seen her little friend A.J. without clothes on. Four times Jennifer
said no. Asked again, the child finally said yes, which answer brought an
enthusiastic response from her interrogator, who exclaimed, "You did? Where?"
The answer was not the sort for which the interviewer hoped. She saw her friend
without clothes, Jennifer explained, "When she had to go to the bathroom and she
didn't know where the bathroom is and I bring her."
"Every trick in the book was used," Judge Borenstein declared, "to get the child
to say what the investigators -- and eventually her parents -- wanted her to
say, rather than to learn in a fair manner whether anything had actually
happened to her." By the time of the defendants' trial, he said, her testimony
had been suggested to her repeatedly. By this point -- she was now eight -- she
had, the judge observed, "truly become a victim of the system."
The four victims of the system
assembled in the DA's office last week long ago
internalized the beliefs instilled in them at age four -- the nightmare images
of torture, terror and sexual violation at the Amiraults' school. She had spent
15 years in therapy, Phaedra Hopkins told reporters last week.
"This family raped me, molested me, and totally ruined my life," declared
Jennifer Bennett, who had said much the same when she appeared at Gerald's
hearing, to oppose his commutation.
No one can miss, in the comments of the witnesses, the continuous references to
the vile crimes alleged against the Amiraults -- against the terrifying Miss Vi,
and Cheryl, along with Gerald. And still, the protesters had nothing to say when
Cheryl was given her freedom.
They had been brought to the DA's office, though,
to oppose release for Gerald -- a measure of the
prosecutors' desperate wish to
hold on, at least, to the Amirault now presented --
in the DA's reconfiguration
of events -- as chief and master criminal.
The former child witnesses appearing with
District Attorney Coakley last week
may, some day, possibly come to understand something of what actually happened
to them -- and just who it was who ensured that they would look upon themselves,
for the better part of their lives, as despoiled and hapless victims.