January 20, 1692. In Salem, Massachusetts, 9-year-old Elizabeth Parris and 11-year-old Abigail Williams scream blasphemies, fall into trance-like states, and shake with convulsive seizures. Weeks later, physicians state that the girls are under the influence of Satan. They accuse three women of afflicting them. Before the Salem Witch Trials are stopped, 20 innocent people will be executed.
January 14, 1697. The Massachusetts General Court declares a Day of Contrition to repent for the hysteria-driven destruction of 1692.
1966. Violet Amirault -- abandoned to raise her two children -- takes herself off the welfare rolls by starting a small daycare service in the basement of her home. This will grow into the thriving Fells Acres Day School, which will occupy the whole house, plus an addition, and serve over 70 students at a time. The school will earn community respect, care for thousands of youngsters, and, for 18 years, no one will ever make an accusation of impropriety.
July 31, 1977. Violet's son Gerald marries his childhood sweetheart, Patti McGonagle. Gerald does not teach at the school but does odd jobs -- driving, cooking, repairs and the like. Patti teaches at the school.
1978. A born-again former Miss America runner-up, Anita Bryant, begins her "Save Our Children" campaign, alleging that homosexuals are dangerous child predators.
1978. The Revere Sex Panic. Authorities discover that two teenage males have been having sex with men for money at a Revere, Massachusetts apartment. The media creates massive hysteria, inciting rumors of international child-sex rings. Ann Burgess, a psychiatric nurse, elaborates the totally unfounded idea that gay men are organizing into international "sex rings" to fly boys around the world, distribute them among networks of men, and make child pornography. Her student, Susan Kelley, went on to promulgate the belief that the "sex rings" had extended to satanist groups operating in daycare centers.
May 23, 1979. Gerald and Patti's first child, Geralyn, is born.
May 24, 1980. Gerald and Patti's second daughter, Katie, is born.
May 14, 1983. Violet's daughter Cheryl, who teaches one toddler class, marries Al LeFave. All of the children and their parents are invited to the wedding. A front-page picture on The Boston Herald is captioned, "Kindergarten teacher with a hundred children."
August 12, 1983. An alcoholic woman (later diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic) named Judy Johnson calls the Los Angeles police and accuses Ray Buckey -- a 25-year-old worker at the McMartin preschool in Manhattan Beach, California -- of sodomizing her two-year-old pre-verbal son.
September 7, 1983. Although there is no physical evidence or corroboration from others at the school, Ray Buckey is arrested. Because of lack of evidence, the DA decides not to prosecute. But the Manhattan Beach Police Chief sends out a letter to 200 past and present McMartin parents, stating that Ray may have forced children to engage in oral sex, fondling of genitals, buttocks or chest area, and sodomy. Panic ensues. A local TV station suggests that the school is linked to child-pornography rings and various Los Angeles sex industries. The panic spreads nationwide.
Spring, 1984. Hundreds of McMartin children have been interviewed by Children's Institute International. The chief investigator is a woman named Kee McFarlane. 360 kids are diagnosed as having been sexually abused. A doctor examines 150 children. In spite of lack of physical evidence, he concludes that 120 of them have been sexually abused.
March, 1984. 208 counts of child abuse involving 40 children are laid against Ray Buckey, the owners of the school (Ray's mother, Peggy Buckey, and his grandmother, Virginia McMartin), and four teachers. The media-inflamed national hysteria would soon lead to many copycat cases.
April, 1984. M.C., a four-year-old new to the Fells Acres School, wets himself during a nap. Gerald, at the teacher's request, changed him into spare clothes kept on hand for such common accidents, put the wet things in a plastic bag, and sent them home with the boy. M.C.'s parents were in the midst of a difficult breakup and the boy had behavioral problems: bed wetting, lying, baby talk, hostility. The mother discusses with M.C. the alleged sexual abuse of her brother.
Summer, 1984. M.C. is discovered in sex play with a cousin. He is interrogated by his mother, his uncle, and a therapist at Boston's Children's Hospital. He makes no allegations of the Amiraults.
August 20, 1984. M.C. tells the uncle that Gerald had undressed him.
September 2, 1984. After five months of questioning, M.C. tells his mother that everyday at preschool, Gerald blindfolded him, took him to a "secret room" with a bed and golden trophies, and performed various sex acts. The mother calls a Department of Social Services hotline and accuses Gerald of sexual abuse.
September 4, 1984. Malden police go to the school and seize class lists.
September 5, 1984. The Malden police arrest Gerald Amirault. Police and social workers summon parents to a meeting at the Malden police station. Panic begins.
September 7, 1984. The parents of three-year-old H.M. (a Fells Acres student) worry because her underwear is inside out and question her. Friends of the mother tell her to question H.M. about a "secret room" and a "magic room." After questioning by her parents, H.M. says that she saw a clown in a basement "magic room." When further questioned about the clown's sex, H.M. says that it had parts girls don't have. With more questioning, H.M. claimed to have seen Cheryl's pubic hair and claimed that Cheryl had tickled her all over.
September 7, 1984. Gerald and Patti's son P.J. (Philip, after his maternal grandfather) is born.
September 10, 1984. H.M. is interviewed by a social worker, who uses anatomically correct dolls as part of her interrogation. (The use of such dolls has since been proven to produce unreliable results.)
September 11, 1984. The State Office for Children closes the school.
September 12, 1984. At the police-station meeting, parents are told that common childhood behavioral symptoms -- bed wetting, nightmares, changes in appetite, etc. -- are evidence of abuse. They are asked to go home and query their children about "magic rooms," "secret rooms," and clowns. They are told that a child's denial of abuse should not be believed. They are told not to take no for an answer and "God forbid you say anything good about the people [the Amiraults] or your children will never tell you anything."
The Fells Acres investigation begins in earnest. Not one child ever makes an accusation against the Amiraults except under repeated prodding questioning by parents, police, therapists, or social workers. Overall responsibility falls on the shoulders of Middlesex County District Attorney, Scott Harshbarger and First Assistant District Attorney, Tom Reilly. Harshbarger assigns the investigation to Assistant District Attorney, Patricia Bernstein, who will later be joined by Larry Hardoon, who flies to California to consult with the McMartin prosecutors. Among those assisting the investigation are pediatric nurse, Susan Kelley (Ann Burgess's pupil) and Dr. Eli Newberger, of Boston's Children's hospital.
September 1984-June 1987. The Fells Acres investigation. Following their instructions from police and social workers, panicked parents began interviewing their own children and closely monitoring them for behavioral symptoms "consistent with abuse." (There's no such thing as a behavioral symptom inconsistent with abuse. And any symptom consistent with abuse is also consistent with non-abuse.) Parents soon begin bringing their toddlers in for intensive questioning (3-year-olds were subjected to 90-minute interviews) by police, therapists, and social workers. Most of these interviews were not recorded, but notes were taken. If children refused to make accusations -- and no accusations were forthcoming for a very long time -- it was noted that the child was "unready to disclose" or that the interview was "without success."
Fortunately, Susan Kelley videotaped many of her interviews. Since Kelley was Harshbarger's primary "expert," it is reasonable to assume that her techniques were no more inept than those of the untrained parents and police, or the other therapists and social workers. Kelley's bias as an interviewer is undeniable. She is convinced that these children were abused, and she will not take no for an answer. When a child doesn't give the answer Kelley wants, she just asks it again and again, clearly letting the child know that a "wrong" answer was given. If this technique fails, Kelley simply ignores the child's actual answer, pretends she got the answer she wants, and proceeds on that assumption. Kelley uses anatomically correct dolls and in a most leading way. Kelley asks a great many leading questions and few open-ended questions. Children are highly praised when they give "right" answers, treated coldly when they don't. Kelley uses peer pressure, claiming that the child's friends made all sorts of accusations. Kelley tells the child how happy the child's mother will be if the child "helps" Kelley the way her friends did. Kelley uses Bert and Ernie dolls, and has the Sesame Street puppets beg children for "disclosures." ("Ernie told me that Tooky [Gerald's nickname] touched you.") When all else fails, Kelley just asks the child to "pretend."
Not surprisingly, the months of relentless and biased interviews produced many bizarre accusations against the Amiraults, the other teachers at the school, a mysterious Mr. Gatt, and Susan Kelley herself. Only the accusations against the Amiraults were pursued.
January 23, 1985. The Grand Jury indicts Gerald, Cheryl, and Violet on 18 counts of abusing 8 children. Two additional children are later added to the indictments. The investigation continues.
January, 1986. In the Manhattan Beach area, a telephone poll is taken on the McMartin case. 97% of those with an opinion believe that Ray Buckey is guilty. 93% believe that Peggy Buckey is guilty.
April 29, 1986. Gerald Amirault's trial begins. Judge Elizabeth Dolan bars the public from the courtroom. The children are seated at little plastic chairs at a miniature table. Dolan removes her black robes and perches on a small chair next to them. The children are positioned so they do not have to see Gerald, and the parents sit right behind the children. One child testifies via videotape because the prosecution insists he was too terrified of Gerald to testify in person. Rules against leading the witness are ignored. The children often deny that they had been abused, but Hardoon is allowed to re-ask until they come around. Defense attorneys have to witness objections, which Dolan routinely disallows.
Children readily admit to rehearsing their testimony, much of which is quite incredible. Children say they had told their teachers about going to the magic room, but no teacher had ever heard of such a room, and no such room (or even likely candidate for such a room) was ever found. One child testifies about being attacked by a robot with flashing lights that talked like R2-D2. Another claims to have been abused by an elephant. One child says that he had been hung upside down from a tree and forced to eat white pills. The same child claims that Gerald had raped him with a thick pointed stick that looked like a gun. A boy claims that Gerald took him away to a "secret room" and a "magic room" in another house while the other children took their naps. (All of the teachers deny under oath that Gerald had ever taken a child out of their classroom.) Another child witness insists that the "secret room" and the "magic room" are on the school's premises and that she had been improperly touched by a "bad clown." Seventeen teachers and teachers aides testify that they had seen no evidence of abuse at Fells Acres, that no child ever shied away from Gerald, and that no child who'd left their class for any reason ever returned extremely upset, and that they had never heard anyone at Fells Acres ever mention a "secret room" or a "magic room." A prosecution witness, Dr. Jean Emans, claims that a tiny scar on a girl's hymen is consistent with abuse. (Such flaws are now known to be common.) Confronted with the fact that the child has claimed that Gerald anally raped him with a butcher knife, Emans calmly replies that the knife could "touch the hymen on the way to trying to find the anus" without penetrating the vagina. The trial is covered for the Globe by Paul Langner (who still works for the Globe and who still believes strongly in the Amiraults' guilt) and none of the more incredible testimony appears in his stories.
July 8, 1986. Gerald's case goes to the jury.
July 19, 1986. After the longest deliberation in Massachusetts history -- 64 1/2 hours -- Gerald Amirault is found guilty on all counts.
August 12, 1986. Gerald's lawyers ask Judge Dolan to free Gerald on bail and they file a notion for a new trial. They have discovered that one of the jurors, Shirley Crawford, had concealed a crucial fact about her background: she had been raped at 14 and had testified at the trial that convicted her rapist.
August 20, 1986. Dolan denies Gerald's bid for a new trial. The defense appeals the decision.
August 21, 1986. Judge Elizabeth Dolan sentences Gerald Amirault to 30-40 years in prison. The defense files an appeal based on ten points, including the claim that permitting videotaped testimony violated his right to confront his accusers.
November 4, 1986. Scott Harshbarger, who runs for re-election advertising his prosecution of the Amiraults, is re-elected District Attorney of Middlesex County.
April 12, 1987. The Supreme Judicial Court rejects Gerald's motion for a new trial.
June 1, 1987. The trial of Violet Amirault and Cheryl Amirault LeFave begins. Judge John Paul Sullivan presides. The children are seated so that they don't have to face the accused. More bizarre testimony is offered by the children. One had been forced to eat a frog that Violet had killed. They'd been molested by clowns and lobsters. One boy claims to have been tied naked to a tree in the school yard (which faces a busy Malden street) in front of all the other teachers and children while Cheryl cut the leg off a squirrel. He also said that Cheryl killed a dog and buried its blood in the sandbox, and that a robot threatened to kill him if he told. Once again, teachers and teachers aides testify under oath that they had seen absolutely no evidence of abuse. A postal inspector, John Dunn, testifies, giving graphic descriptions of child pornography. (No evidence linking the Amiraults to child pornography is ever presented. It does not exist.) Paul Langner once again covers the trials for the Globe and once again the more incredible testimony never sees print.
June 12, 1987. The second Amirault trial goes to the jury.
June 13, 1987. Violet and Cheryl are found guilty on all counts. The defense appeals on five points, including the claim that Dunn's testimony was irrelevant and prejudicial.
July 15, 1987. Violet and Cheryl are sentenced to 8 to 20 years.
March 6, 1989. The Supreme Judicial Court unanimously rejects Gerald's appeal.
January 18, 1990. After three years of testimony and nine weeks of deliberation (the longest and most expensive criminal trial in US history, costing California taxpayers 15 million dollars) the jury in the McMartin case comes in. Peggy Buckey is acquitted. Ray is acquitted in 39 counts and the jury is hung (with large majorities favoring acquittal) on 13 counts. The prosecution decides to retry Ray Buckey.
July 11, 1990. The Supreme Judicial Court rules 4-1 against Violet and Cheryl. Chief Justice Paul Liacos writes an impassioned dissent where he criticizes Sullivan for permitting "highly inflammatory and prejudicial" testimony.
August, 1990. The second McMartin trial ends in a hung jury. The prosecution gives up.
November 6, 1990. Scott Harshbarger is elected Massachusetts Attorney General. Tom Reilly succeeds him as Middlesex County District Attorney.
January 9, 1991. Harshbarger gives Patricia Bernstein a top position in the Attorney General's office, coordinating public integrity investigations and prosecutions conducted by the criminal bureau.
1992. Because Cheryl and Violet maintain their innocence, they are denied parole. Violet's parole report stated, "Parole denied. Vigorously denies the offense. Until such time as she is able to take responsibility for her crimes and engages in long term therapy to address the causative factors, she will remain a risk to the community if released."
June 25, 1992. In the Boston Globe, prosecutor Larry Hardoon states that society should be "willing to trade off a couple of situations that are really unfair, in exchange for being sure that hundreds of children are protected." (Hardoon doesn't explain, however, how sending innocent people to prison protects anyone.)
October 1, 1992. Judge Sullivan revises his sentence to time served and orders the Amirault women released from prison. In an unprecedented move, Tom Reilly appeals the trial judge's decision to revise and revoke the sentence he himself had imposed.
May 4, 1993. In a 4-1 ruling, the Supreme Judicial Court overrules Judge Sullivan. Cheryl and Violet must remain in prison. Once again, Chief Justice Liacos writes an impassioned dissent.
July, 1993. PBS's Frontline airs "Innocence Lost," a documentary by Ofra Bikel about the Little Rascals daycare case in Edenton, North Carolina -- a sex panic case that closely resembles McMartin and Fells Acres. Among those watching is an assistant professor of chemical engineering at MIT, Jonathan Harris.
January, 1994. Jonathan Harris becomes interested in the Fells Acres case after encountering a debate about it on an internet mailing list. He begins his own investigation, obtaining transcripts of the trials and other source documents. Harris shares his findings with others interested in justice, such as Wall Street Journal editorial-page writer, Dorothy Rabinowitz.
November 8, 1994. Scott Harshbarger is re-elected Attorney General. Tom Reilly is re-elected District Attorney.
January 31, 1995. Dorothy Rabinowitz publishes a hard-hitting article about the Amirault case, "A Darkness in Massachusetts," in the Wall Street Journal. The salient facts in the case are brought to national attention for the first time.
February 24, 1995. Scott Harshbarger writes the Wall Street Journal to complain about Rabinowitz's article. Harshbarger ignores what Rabinowitz said and responds to what he wishes she'd said instead. For example, "I reject absolutely her view that we can't trust child witnesses and prosecute successfully -- meaning fairly -- child-abuse cases." Harshbarger falsely claims, "From the beginning, our prosecution of the Amirault case was handled carefully and meticulously to avoid the problems encountered in the other cases [such as McMartin] mentioned in the article." Harshbarger says that "the Amiraults are where all serious child-abusers should be." Harshbarger concludes by accusing Rabinowitz of instigating a "thoughtless and uninformed backlash."
March 14, 1995. Undaunted by Harshbarger, Rabinowitz publishes "A Darkness in Massachusetts II" in the Wall Street Journal.
March 19, 1995. Excellent long article by Charles M. Sennott appears in the Boston Globe. The article is balanced, but sympathetic towards the Amiraults. Sennott reports that Miriam Holmes, who was assigned as a counselor by the Department of Corrections to Violet and Cheryl, and Joel Skolnick, who counseled Cheryl, believe that both women are innocent. Harshbarger repeats his remark that "the Amiraults are right where serious child abusers ought to be." The article also cites the work of Dr. Maggie Bruck, which demonstrates the suggestibility of young children.
April 11, 1995. Lawyers for Violet and Cheryl appeal their convictions because the seating arrangements violated their Constitutional right to face their accusers. Gerald Amirault appeals his conviction on the same grounds.
April 28, 1995. Dan Kennedy, of the weekly Boston Phoenix, weighs in with strong support for the prosecution in an article, "Suffer the Children."
May 12, 1995. Scott Harshbarger responds to the second Rabinowitz article. His argument is that the Amiraults have been convicted by two juries, their appeals have failed, so therefore they must be guilty. Harshbarger compares the Amiraults to Joel Steinberg and John Wayne Gacy. He concludes with the sentence, "I am proud to `dig in early' on behalf of the children and parents whose voices the Journal has attempted to smother."
May 12, 1995. Dorothy Rabinowitz publishes "A Darkness in Massachusetts III" in the Wall Street Journal.
August 29, 1995. A new trial is ordered for Violet and Cheryl by Judge Robert Barton, who succeeded the retired Judge Sullivan. The prosecution appeals the decision.
August 31, 1995. After eight years in prison, Violet and Cheryl are finally freed on bail.
November 29, 1995. Judge Elizabeth Dolan refuses a new trial for Gerald. His lawyers appeal.
December 3-7, 1995. The Boston Herald publishes an information-packed series of five articles about the Amirault case by Tom Mashberg and Ed Hayward.
January 14, 1997. The San Diego-based National Justice Committee, led by Carol Lamb Hopkins, sponsors a Day of Contrition in Salem, Massachusetts, in commemoration of the 300th anniversary of the Day of Contrition declared by Governor Phipps. A primary concern is the plight of people falsely accused of sexual abuse, such as the Amiraults. Several members of the Amirault family attend, including Cheryl and Violet, as well as the Buckeys. Prominent social scientists, legal professionals, and scholars also attend. For accounts of this conference, see "Salem's Shadow," by Jim D'Entremont and Bob Chatelle, and "Shalom, Salem," by Carol Reid.
March 24, 1997. The Supreme Judicial Court turns down the appeals of Violet, Cheryl, and Gerald in a 6-1 vote. In a decision written by new Justice Charles Fried (and since widely ridiculed in competent legal circles) the Court conceded that rights had probably been violated, but that "the community's interest in finality" must be the overriding concern.
April 6, 1997. 150 people demanding justice for the Amiraults rally in Harvard Square and march to Governor Weld's house.
April 20, 1997. In the Boston Globe, Scott Harshbarger states that the goal of those defending the Amiraults is "to absolutely negate that child abuse occurs."
April 29, 1997. The Supreme Judicial Court refuses to review its decision to send the Amirault women back to prison. James Sultan, who represents the Amiraults, begins the process of asking for a new trial on the grounds of ineffective assistance of prior counsel (who didn't object to the seating arrangements or raise the issue on appeal.)
May 5, 1997. Three motions are presented to Judge Barton: motions by the defense for a new trial and to let the women remain free on bail and a motion by the prosecution to send the women to prison immediately. Barton reads a statement saying that the Amiraults "did not receive a fair trial and justice was not done...The substantial risk if a miscarriage of justice has been established...I believe I cannot be fair and impartial considering the three motions before this court." He then recuses himself and a new judge is sought.
May 9, 1997. Judge Isaac Borenstein overturns the convictions of Violet and Cheryl. The original trial defense lawyers submit affidavits admitting they made a mistake in not objecting to the seating arrangements. Tom Reilly appeals Borenstein's decision.
June 19, 1997. Justice Neil L. Lynch of the Supreme Judicial Court turns down a prosecution demand that Violet and Cheryl be immediately returned to prison. Judge Borenstein's decision will go through the normal appellate process.
Summer, 1997. Violet Amirault is diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. Gerald (in shackles, of course) is permitted a single 15-minute visit.
September 12, 1997. Violet Amirault dies. Among her last words are, "Don't vote for Scott Harshbarger."
October 16, 1997. The defense files another motion for new trial for Cheryl, based on new evidence.
October 28, 1997. The Supreme Judicial Court refuses to consider a prosecution effort to send Cheryl back to prison immediately. The SJC will wait the results of the hearing on new evidence before considering the other ruling before it.
February 17-18, 1998. Experimental psychologist Maggie Bruck presents her own research, and the research of other experimental psychologists, that illustrates the unreliability of the children's testimony in the case of the Amirault women. The chief problem is extreme interviewer bias, which drove the interrogations. Bruck presents evidence about misreporting caused by the use of anatomically correct dolls, the effect of leading and misleading questions, selective reinforcement, peer pressure, encouraging children to fantasize, and the ways interviewers make mistakes and misreport interviews. Bruck replays several of the videotapes of the Susan Kelley interviews, which speak for themselves. Bruck testifies that the children's testimony was "highly, highly suspect" and "unreliable." Bruck is subjected to hostile cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Lynn, but Rooney is generally ineffective. The defense also calls Dr. Diane H. Schetky, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and a forensic psychiatrist since 1975 who in 1997 was a primary author of guidelines for examining sexual abuse cases for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Schetky testifies that Dr. Bruck's work is very highly regarded and generally accepted by child and adolescent psychiatrists. Rooney's cross-examination of Dr. Schetky serves mainly to illustrate Rooney's own ignorance of and contempt for scientific method.
April 14, 1998. At the continuation of the hearing, Cheryl was primarily represented by Dan Williams. He emphasized that Dr. Bruck's evidence was new, and that it demonstrated the impact of coercive interviews. Williams also addressed the issues of physical and behavioral symptoms, which Rooney had insinuated into the record, knowing that these were areas outside of Dr. Bruck's professional expertise. Williams pointed out that before the hysteria broke out, not a single parent was concerned about their children's behavior or noted any physical symptoms. During Rooney's presentation, Borenstein asked her whether the Susan Kelley interviews weren't perfect examples of suggestive interviewing techniques. Rooney agreed. She said, "When one looks at the interviews conducted by Susan Kelley, the Commonwealth would concede there are throughout these interviews suggestive techniques that were used by her. Techniques that would not be used today. There's no question about that." Borenstein asked Rooney where in the record there was any physical or behavioral evidence indicating abuse before September of 1984. Rooney was unable to provide any such evidence. In her closing argument, Rooney ends with the ringing pronouncement, "Justice in this case has to come to an end." Borenstein quickly pointed out that he felt she didn't quite mean what she'd just said.
June 6, 1998. Scott Harshbarger receives the endorsement for governor at the State Democratic Convention. Harshbarger's margin of victory is two votes out of 3,898 cast. He faces two challengers -- Patricia McGovern and Brian Donnelly -- in the September 15 primary. The Convention endorses Lois Pines over Tom Reilly for Attorney General, but Reilly will also carry the fight to the primary.
June 12, 1998. Judge Borenstein rules in Cheryl's favor, grants her a new trial, and bars the children from testifying at the new trial. Borenstein also dismisses all of the charges against the deceased Violet Amirault. Borenstein says that "serious, overwhelming errors" occurred that rendered the children's testimony forever unreliable. Cheryl was the "victim of a serious miscarriage of justice" and, Borenstein added, "her spirit may never be intact." Borenstein said that police make mistakes; prosecutors make mistakes; juries make mistakes; judges make mistakes. "Today I am not making a mistake...Owning up to mistakes is far from being a sign of weakness. It is a sign of courage and strength." Borenstein's words fall on the deaf ears of Lynn Rooney and Tom Reilly, who are appealing Borenstein's decision to the Supreme Judicial Court.
June 13, 1998. Scott Harshbarger tells the Boston Globe, "The judge's ruling today is not supported by the facts."
June 13, 1998. Edmund M. Powers, one of the Amirault jurors, tells the Boston Herald, "I think the jury was duped -- misled."
September 9, 1998. The Boston Globe endorses Tom Reilly for Attorney General and Martha Coakley for Middlesex County District Attorney. (Coakley successfully prosecuted Ray and Shirley Souza, who were accused of sexually abusing their grandchildren, on evidence as phony as the evidence that convicted the Amiraults. Coakley is also endorsed by the Boston Herald.)
September 10, 1998. The Boston Globe endorses Scott Harshbarger for governor.
September 15, 1998. Harshbarger, Reilly and Coakley all win in the Democratic primary. Reilly and Coakley will almost certainly be elected in November. Harshbarger faces a tough fight against Republican Acting Governor, Paul Cellucci.
November 3, 1998. Harshbarger is defeated. Reilly and Coakley are elected.
January 6, 1999. Amicus curiae brief supporting the prosecution filed with the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court by One Voice, an alarmist child-protectionist group founded by former Miss America, Marilyn van Derbur. The brief argues that the alleged victims in Cheryl's case be allowed to testify. Also signing the brief are The Alabama Coalition Against Rape, The Victim Center, Kathleen C. Faller, Alan Scheflin, and Charles Whitfied -- author of Healing the Child Within and other exploitative pop "self-help" books.
April 16, 1999. Amirault defense attorneys file this brief with the Supreme Judicial Court. Oral arguments are scheduled for May 6, 1999.
May 6, 1999. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court hears the Middlesex DA's appeal of Judge Borenstein's ruling granting Cheryl a new trial. The Justices are friendly to the prosecution and openly hostile to Cheryl's attorneys. Read Jim D'Entremont's depressing account.
June 30, 1999. Justice Charles Fried (author of the notorious "finality" decision) retires from the Supreme Judicial Court and returns to Harvard. Fried and Harvard deserve one another.
August 18, 1999. A black day in Massachusetts history -- a day to rival the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti and the victims of the Salem Witch Trials. The Supreme Judicial Court, in an unanimous decision, throws out Borenstein's humane and reasoned ruling for a new trial. The gloating of the zealots who perpetrated this injustice sickens the heart. Wendy Murphy, one of the Middlesex prosecutors, tells The Boston Herald: "Stick a fork in them. They're done." The Boston Globe praises the decision in an editorial. (The Globe rejected this very moderate response by Professor Bernard Rosenthal.) Cheryl's lawyer, James Sultan, weighs seeking a pardon from Governor Cellucci or relief in federal court.
August 20, 1999. Judge Borenstein summons Cheryl Amirault Lefave and DA Martha Coakley to his courtroom on August 30.
August 25, 1999. Coakley states that Borenstein has no right to ask her to his courtroom, because he no longer has jurisdiction in the case. Coakley says she will ask the Supreme Judicial Court to vacate Borenstein's order.
August 27, 1999. The SJC does Coakley's bidding. LeFave's lawyers file a motion asking the SJC to reconsider their decision to imprison Cheryl. While there is no chance that the SJC will do something so reasonable and humane, the maneuver buys Cheryl a little time.
September 1, 1999. Borenstein announces that his intention in inviting Coakley to his courtroom was to plead with her to agree to a revise-and-revoke order so that Cheryl would not have to return to prison.
September 13, 1999. In a courageous and unprecedented move, the Massachusetts Lawyer's Weekly publishes an editorial unequivocally criticizing the SJC's mishandling of the Amirault Case. The editorial is titled, "Travesty of Justice."
September 28, 1999. The SJC turns down the defense motion to reconsider.
October 21, 1999. Cheryl's lawyers file a motion to revise and revoke Cheryl's sentence to the time she had already served. Assistant District Attorney Lynn Rooney agrees, provided that (1) Cheryl have no contact with the alleged victims or their families, (2) Cheryl have no unsupervised contact with a child under 16 or seek employment that would cause her to have such contact, (3) Cheryl not profit from published accounts of the case, and (4) Cheryl lives under supervised probation for ten years. Cheryl's lawyers accept the terms (which had been previously negotiated) and Judge Paul Chernoff ratifies the agreement. At the press conference following the court session, attorney James Sultan reveals two additional conditions that they had accepted: (1) that Cheryl cease all further attempts to clear her name via the legal process and (2) that Cheryl not speak about the case on camera for at least the ten years of her supervised probation. Cheryl, in short, had to "voluntarily" surrender her most basic Constitutional rights in order to avoid a return to the hell hole of Framingham prison. On hearing this, one reporter says: "That's outrageous. This is America." One of Cheryl's attorneys -- distinguished Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree -- responds, "This is Middlesex County."
DA Coakley, of course, insisted that this was all to protect the "victims." The prosecutors and their allies have never had any sincere concern for the Fells Acres children. There is no question that these children were abused -- but not by the Amirault family. Any sane person who studies this case realizes that the children were abused by Scott Harshbarger, Tom Reilly, Patricia Bernstein, Larry Hardoon, Susan Kelley, Dr. Eli Newberger, and others. The abuse continues to this day, aided and abetted by DA Coakley, Catherine Sullivan, Lynn Rooney, other members of the Middlesex DA's office, and their political supporters. Because these people exposed the Fells Acres children to an enormous amount of highly sexualized interrogation, even forcing them to play with anatomically correct dolls, it is entirely fair to allege that these people are guilty of child sexual abuse. By trying to silence Cheryl, Coakley may hope to protect the real guilty parties in this case. We must see that this does not happen.
April 19, 2000. Gerald Amirault's lawyers file a petition with Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci, requesting a commutation of Gerald's sentence. Here is an account of a press conference at Harvard Law school that took place the same day. A hearing on Gerald's petition is scheduled for September 20, 2000.
September 20, 2000. The Parole Board hears Gerald's petition for commutation. Click here for my account of the hearing. Letters and petitions should reach the Board by October 4, 2000.
November 17, 2000. Harvard Law School sponsors a conference called The Day Care Child Sex Abuse Phenomenon.
February 9, 2001. The Boston Globe reports that President Bush will nominate Governor Paul Cellucci as his ambassador to Canada.
April 5, 2001. Paul Cellucci is confirmed by the U.S. Senate as Ambassador to Canada. Just three days prior, the Wall Street Journal had blasted Cellucci for his cowardice and inaction on Gerald Amirault's petition.
April 10, 2001. Cellucci resigns. Lieutenant Governor Jane Swift becomes Governor.
April 16, 2001. Wall Street Journal columnist and Amirault champion Dorothy Rabinowitz wins the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
April 19, 2001. Anniversary of the filing of Gerald Amirault's petition for commutation. The Parole Board -- required by law to make a recommendation within six months -- has still done nothing.
July 6, 2001. The Parole Board votes 5-0, recommending that the Governor commute Gerald Amirault's sentence to time served.
August 2, 2001. Martha Coakley and the Middlesex DA's office orchestrate a hysteria-filled press conference by the alleged "victims" of the Amirault family. Ironically, the true abusers of these people are in fact Coakley herself and her colleagues -- Harshbarger, Reilly, Bernstein, Hardoon, etc. Dorothy Rabinowitz writes an excellent refutation of the "victims" newly minted charges for the Wall Street Journal. One of the most vocal participants in this Coakley-engineered fiasco was "victim" Jennifer Bennett. Read what Judge Borenstein has to say about the mistreatment of this poor little girl by the Middlesex DA's office. Also participating in the press circus were Phaedra Hopkins, Brian Martinello, and Martinello's mother, Barbara Standke. To check the record for these "victims," and for the other seven children who were used against the Amiraults, see this Appendix written by attorney Dan Finneran for the first Fells Acres new-trial motion.
August 17, 2001. In a Boston Globe op-ed piece, Democratic former Congressman and state Attorney General James Shannon calls upon Governor Swift to free Gerald Amirault.
August 22, 2001. Middlesex DA Martha Coakley talks Christopher Lydon into having Barbara Standke, one of the "victim" mothers, on Lydon's radio show with Coakley. Standke makes a lot of brand-new charges against the Amiraults, and claims that these charges were disclosed to her by her son before September 2, 1984. There is of course nothing in the record to support this. Coakley knows or should know this, but says nothing to dispute Standke's false accusations. Jennifer Bennett is also a guest on this show.
August 27, 2001. The Lynn Daily Item runs an outrageous article attacking Cheryl Amirault LeFave, thoughtfully giving LeFave's home address in Nahant. The point of the article, apparently, is to incite vigilante action against LeFave. Cheryl's attorney, James Sultan, responds to the Item's hate mongering.
October 17, 2001. Governor Swift announces she will run for reelection in 2002.
October 31, 2001. Governor Swift signs into law a bill exonerating five of the people hanged as witches in Salem in 1692.
November 29, 2001. Governor Swift meets with the Fells Acres accusers.
January 6, 2002. The Boston Globe begins a non-stop series of articles about sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests.
February 19, 2002. In the midst of a full-fledged sex panic about sexual misconduct by Catholic priests, the cowardly Swift turns down Gerald's petition. A year from now, Swift will be just a bad memory. But those of us who care about justice will still be fighting.
April 4, 2002. Gerald Amirault has a hearing before the prison classification board on a petition for early parole. He is turned down 3-0 because he asserts his innocence. Their decision, however, can be overruled by the prison superintendent.
April 5, 2002. The National Center for Reason and Justice (NCRJ) is founded. The NCRJ, a tax-exempt organization, will agree to accept donations for the Amirault defense.
February 27, 2003. My prediction of 2/19/02 is fulfilled. Gerald Amirault petitions elected Governor Mitt Romney to commute his sentence and release him from prison.
March 14, 2003. The Massachusetts Parole Board turns down Gerald's petition, saying that he is scheduled for a parole hearing in October and that the commutation process would take too long to complete.
April 4, 2003. A forum on the Fells Acres case is held at Harvard Law School. Click here for a report.
*August 23, 2003. Father John Geoghan is murdered in prison. Father Geoghan was the first priest named by the Boston Globe in its extensive series of articles about real and alleged sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests. Geoghan was serving a ten-year sentence for touching a boy's buttocks.
October 1, 2003. A parole hearing is held at Bridgewater for Gerald Amirault.
October 16, 2003. The parole board grants parole to Gerald Amirault. DA Martha Coakley, however, is given unti April 30, 2004 to decide whether to try to commit Gerald "from one day to life" as a "sexually dangerous person."
April 24, 2004. Coakley announces that she will not block Gerald's parole by attempting to commit him as a sexually dangerous person.
April 30, 2004. Gerald Amirault goes home on parole. On the very same day, in California, the conviction of John Stoll -- one of the first people convicted during the 80's child sex panic -- is voided.
March 25, 2005. The Malden Observer reports that the Commonwealth of Massachusewtts had classified Gerald Amirault a Level Three sex offender -- the classification given to those considered most dangerous.