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Baker said he sought pardons in Fells Acres case because convicted siblings ‘should have gotten a new trial’

Attorney James Sultan, center, who represents the Amiraults, addresses a public hearing Tuesday on whether to approve Governor Charlie Baker's recommended pardons of Gerald Amirault, and his sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, who were at the center of one the nation's most high-profile sexual abuse trials of the 1980s.Steven Senne/Associated Press

A day after withdrawing pardons requests for Gerald Amirault and his sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, Governor Charlie Baker said he pushed the clemency recommendations because he believed the siblings should have gotten a new trial after being convicted of sexually abusing children at the Fells Acres Day School nearly 40 years ago.

Baker, speaking to reporters Thursday, also defended how he pursued the pardons, in the wake of one state official claiming the process Baker pursued “stinks.” Victims also complained that Baker gave them no notification he was pushing the clemency petitions for Amirault and LeFave, until he made them public last month.


The Governor’s Council, an eight-member panel that votes on pardon requests, was set to act on the recommendations Wednesday — after holding a six-hour hearing the day before — when Baker withdrew his recommendation, citing an apparent lack of support from the council.

Some councilors criticized Baker for giving little justification for seeking the requests beyond a press release the day he announced the recommendations, in which he said he had “grave doubt regarding the evidentiary strength” of their convictions.

Speaking Thursday, Baker cited court decisions in which LeFave and her mother, Violet Amirault, were ordered new trials, only to have them rejected at a higher court. One included a 1998 ruling issued by Superior Court Judge Isaac Borenstein, who at the time voided LeFave’s abuse conviction because, the judge argued, the alleged victims were manipulated by “overzealous” investigators who succumbed to a “climate of panic, if not hysteria.”

Baker has called the ruling “compelling.”

“I thought they should have gotten a new trial. They didn’t. My decision was based primarily on that,” Baker told reporters Thursday.

Gerald Amirault, 68, spent 18 years in prison after being convicted in 1986 of sexually assaulting nine children at his family’s day-care center, the Fells Acres Day School in Malden. LeFave, and their mother, Violet Amirault, were convicted in a separate trial in 1987. Violet Amirault served eight years in prison, and died of cancer in 1997 less than one year after being freed on bail. LeFave also spent eight years in prison.


Amirault told the Salem News in 2016 that he met Baker in the North End in 2014 while the Republican was campaigning for governor, and that Baker promised “once he was elected, one of the first things on his list would be to take care of my situation.” Baker said earlier this week he didn’t remember that.

Baker has sustained heavy criticism from people on both sides of the contentious case, as well as the Governor’s Council itself. Victims and their relatives in the case said they felt blindsided after Baker and his office failed to reach out directly to them. Baker had pursued the pardons against the advice of his Advisory Board of Pardons, which both urged him to deny Gerald Amirault’s clemency petition and denied both his and LeFave’s request for a hearing.

The second-term Republican, who leaves office next month, argued there was a “very significant, very public process” previously before the Parole Board, an apparent reference to the now decades-old hearing it held before recommending in 2001 that Amirault receive a commutation. Then-Acting Governor Jane Swift rejected the recommendation.

This time, Baker said, he felt “we were better off just putting it in front of the governor’s council and seeing if it was something they would be willing to consider.”


By Wednesday morning, it appears they were set to reject it. But Baker said he was personally surprised members of the council slammed the process at Tuesday’s hearing, arguing he and his administration had “lots of conversations” with them up until that point.

“I’m sorry that that came up during the course of the hearing,” he said, “because it certainly wasn’t something that was raised with us for the two weeks or so prior.”

Matt Stout can be reached at Follow him @mattpstout.