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Charlie Baker’s process on the Amirault pardons ‘stinks’

What was he thinking?

Attorney James Sultan, center, who represents the Amiraults, addressed a public hearing Dec. 13, at the State House, in Boston.Steven Senne/Associated Press

What was Governor Charlie Baker thinking when he recommended pardons for convicted child sex abusers Gerald Amirault and his sister, Cheryl Amirault Lefave?

Baker didn’t share his rationale with the eight members of the Governor’s Council. Instead, he left them with a hot potato they didn’t want to handle. As Councilor Paul DePalo put it during Tuesday’s pardon hearing, “The process stinks.” It did, and even a council not known for its high-minded principle didn’t want to go along with such a request from a lame-duck governor. Acknowledging that he didn’t have the votes, Baker withdrew his request Wednesday.


Gerald Amirault and his sister were convicted nearly 40 years ago of sexually abusing young children at their family’s Fells Acres Day Care Center in Malden. Gerald, now 68, served 18 years in prison, and in 2004 he was released on parole, which ends next year. Cheryl, now 64, served eight years in prison. Their mother, Violet, who was also convicted and served prison time, died in 1997. Because of questions about the methods used at the time to interview children, and how they were shielded from face-to-face confrontation with the defendants during trial, this was a highly charged case — and still is.

in 2000, Gerald Amirault, right, sat with his attorney, James Sultan, when he appeared before the Massachusetts Parole Board in Boston. Amirault argued for his chance at parole after serving 14 years in prison for his 1986 conviction of molesting and raping children at his family's day care center in Malden.Barry Chin/Globe staff

Was Baker trying to fulfill a last wish of Barbara Anderson, a conservative activist who headed the advocacy group Citizens for Limited Taxation? In a column published in The Salem News right after she died in 2016, Anderson wrote: “There will be no memorial service but if anyone wants to honor my memory, please remind Governor Charlie Baker that when he was running for office, he promised my friend Gerald Amirault and his family that getting Gerald off parole and his ankle bracelet would be a first order of business. So far he has broken his promise, and keeping it is my dying wish.”


Baker recommended the pardons even though the Parole Board, whose members he appoints, declined to give Gerald Amirault or his sister a hearing. In the press release explaining his reasoning, Baker wrote, “I am left with grave doubt regarding the evidentiary strength of these convictions.” Beyond that, he provided “zip, zero, nothing,” as Councilor Elaine Duff put it at Tuesday’s hearing.

Neither Gerald Amirault nor his sister attended the hearing, which seemed orchestrated to give pardon proponents a chance to advance their cause with maximum media exposure. Kicking it off, Councilor Terrence Kennedy said, “This is not a trial. It’s not about guilt or innocence.” Yet James M. Sultan, the Amiraults’ attorney, got nearly two hours to essentially relitigate this controversial case from the 1980s.

Then came emotional testimonials from Gerald Amirault’s wife, daughter, and friends. After that, Laurence Hardoon, who had been the lead prosecutor on the case, got a chance to speak. But he was badgered by Councilor Robert L. Jubinville about a 1998 ruling that claimed the victims were manipulated by “overzealous” investigators, as the now-retired judge who issued the ruling loomed behind Hardoon. Finally, testimony came from victims and family members — some five and a half hours after the hearing began.

Laurence Hardoon, Former prosecutor against the Amiraults, spoke during the Governor's Council hearing on Dec. 13.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

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.


The Amiraults were convicted twice, by two different juries, and the convictions withstood a series of appeals, including six rulings from the Supreme Judicial Court. “There is no justification for a pardon that will be promoted by the petitioners and echoed by the media as a wrongful conviction that nullifies the long, solid legal history of these cases and that seeks to nullify the painful, emotional turmoil that the victims and their families have lived with to this very day,” Hardoon told the Governor’s Council.

Council member Marilyn Petitto Devaney, who said she has a personal friend whose child was sexually abused at that day care center, also spoke out passionately against the pardons. So did council member Christopher Iannella, who told the family members and victims “you can count on me to stand up for you.”

Hardoon also issued a warning that any pardon would be interpreted as exoneration, which would “cast a pall over other children who will not be believed.” Who would want that as their legacy?

Thanks to pardon resisters on the Governor’s Council, Baker was spared that possibility.

Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her @joan_vennochi.