Word has it that this week's confirmation hearings
for Massachusetts' Governor Paul Cellucci, nominated for the post of
Ambassador to Canada, will be trouble-free and that the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee is likely to pass it quickly. That may be, but
before this fast-track nomination whizzes past the Senators and
Committee Chairman Jesse Helms, a close look at Mr. Cellucci's conduct
as Governor might be in order.
We are thinking, in particular, of the Governor's
altogether telling evasions of responsibility in what has now become
one of Massachusetts' most notorious and long-running travesties of
justice -- namely the continued incarceration of Gerald Amirault on by
now thoroughly discredited child sex abuse charges. Indeed,
"Travesty of Justice" was the title of the lead editorial on
the subject that appeared in 1999 in the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly,
a publication that had never before in its history taken a position on
This was only the latest addition to the growing
recognition of the legal horrors visited on one Massachusetts family
when prosecutors mounted their cases in the mid-1980s against elderly
Violet Amirault, principal of the Fells Acres Day School, and her
children, Cheryl and Gerald.
After eight years in prison, Violet and Cheryl were
granted a motion for a new trial, and released. That left Gerald, in
prison now nearly 15 years, the male member of the Amirault family,
the one Commonwealth prosecutors are determined to hold on to -- he
has 20 years left to serve -- and whom they have recently taken to
portraying as the chief offender and the family's master criminal.
In April 2000, attorneys for Gerald Amirault filed
a petition for executive clemency with Governor Cellucci, who had
obviously been keeping up with the flow of shocked responses and
revelations about the Amirault prosecution. Governor Cellucci
accordingly expressed the view, while on a talk show, that justice had
not been done in the Amirault case.
It was therefore with considerable hope that Gerald
Amirault's attorneys presented the argument for commutation last
September before the Advisory Board of Pardons, whose recommendations
guide the Governor's decisions on executive clemency.
There was every reason to suppose that the outcome
would be positive, and that the Board's decision would come in a few
weeks. Whatever its decision on Gerald was going to be, the Board was
obliged by law to deliver it within six months of the filing of the
petition, a time span that ended in October. And still, as weeks and
months have dragged on, no decision has come, nothing has been heard
from the Board but a mysterious silence -- though its members must be
aware that no sane person would believe they've been sitting around
debating Gerald Amirault's petition for six months.
That silence has, we suspect, everything to do with
Governor Cellucci's hopes for political appointment -- hopes that the
Governor doubtless considered endangered by any decision he might
take, especially a decision to commute the sentence of a convicted
child abuser, Gerald Amirault. Who knew what the reaction would be
from some hostile quarter of the press or what some Senator might say?
You never know.
So it happened that Gerald Amirault has been left
swinging in the wind, waiting for word of what's left of life from a
Board rendered mute by Mr. Cellucci's career imperatives. It is now
clear that the Governor has decided to dump the commutation decision
on his successor, Lieutenant Governor Jane Swift. We don't, of course,
expect to see many profiles in courage among politicians yearning for
Presidential appointments. Still there's every reason to question the
credentials of a nominee as driven by political expediency as Governor
Cellucci has shown himself to be -- one who would serve an
Administration that has put a premium on the issue of character.
The Amirault family, proprietors of Fells Acres,
ran the most respected day school in Malden, the focal point of life
for Violet Amirault, the object of all her zeal and ambition. Within a
day of the first accusation, it had all been swept away as prosecutors
began building their case. It was alleged that Mrs. Amirault had raped
and otherwise molested children, that she and Gerald and Cheryl had
lured four- and five-year-olds to be abused in secret rooms by a bad
clown. There were stories of robots, animal mutilation, magic drinks,
all of it identical to what was happening in similar prosecutions
being mounted around the country at this time, among them the infamous
McMartin case in California.
We've outlined these details before, and noted also
that everywhere in the country these notorious cases have by now been
overturned -- everywhere except in the state of Massachusetts. There
the prosecutors continue to proclaim the justice of their case.
When the facts of this bogus prosecution began
emerging, Scott Harshbarger, the district attorney who brought the
case, responded by comparing the Amiraults to serial murderer John
Wayne Gacy. Today Mr. Harshbarger is the president of Common Cause, in
which capacity he holds forth regularly on the importance of integrity
and official responsibility.
Mr. Cellucci's successor, Jane Swift, will have the
opportunity to distinguish herself from her predecessor. One of the
more obvious ways to do so would be to act immediately on the issue of
commutation for Gerald Amirault. Governor Cellucci has had the
opportunity to speak for sanity in his home state, and chose
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