Harshbarger v. Justice

Scott Harshbarger (now president of Common Cause) was District Attorney of Middlesex County when three members of the Amirault Family - Violet, her son Gerald, and her daughter Cheryl - were sent to prison for crimes that never occurred. The Amiraults, who for eighteen years had run without incident the successful Fells Acres Day School in Malden, were convicted during a national wave of hysteria over child sexual abuse in day care centers. This hysteria, and the resulting prosecutions, has been validly compared to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Harshbarger can be forgiven for being a victim of the times. But over the past 17 years he has stubbornly refused to look at new evidence that thoroughly discredits the Fells Acres investigations and prosecutions. Violet died a broken woman in 1997. But Gerald remains in prison and Cheryl was almost sent back there. Scott Harshbarger lacks the integrity to admit that he is capable of making a mistake.

The Fells Acres case came to national attention on January 31, 1995, when Dorothy Rabinowitz published the first of her "Darkness in Massachusetts" columns in the Wall Street Journal. On 2/24/95, Harshbarger responded with a letter in the Journal, saying "I reject absolutely her view that we can't trust child witnesses and prosecute successfully - meaning fairly - child abuse cases." That, of course, is not and never was Rabinowitz's view. In that letter, Harshbarger also claimed, "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." The most casual scrutiny of these cases proves Harshbarger a liar. He even sent one of the prosecutors, Larry Hardoon, to California to confer with the McMartin prosecutors.

On 3/19/95, Harshbarger told the Boston Globe, "the Amiraults are right where serious child abusers ought to be." On 5/12/95, Harshbarger again wrote the Journal in response to a Rabinowitz column. In that letter, he compared the Amiraults to child murderers Joel Steinberg and John Wayne Gacy. He concluded by saying, "I am proud to `dig in early' on behalf of the children and parents whose voices the Journal has attempted to smother." By some form of tortured reasoning, Harshbarger equates Rabinowitz's bringing the facts to public attention with censorship. On 4/20/97, Harshbarger told the Globe that the goal of those seeking justice for the Amiraults is "to absolutely negate that child abuse occurs." By Harshbarger's reasoning, the ranks of those of us absolutely negating that child abuse occurs now includes the editorial staffs of Massachusetts Lawyer's Weekly, The Christian Science Monitor, Bay Windows, The Worcester Telegram, The Wall Street Journal, Alexander Cockburn and Katha Pollitt of The Nation, Barbara Anderson, William Raspberry of The Washington Post, Charles Ogletree (Harvard law professor and Anita Hill's attorney), and many others. (This list includes conservative, liberal, and non-political media.)

On 6/12/98, Judge Isaac Borenstein granted Cheryl a new trial. Borenstein made a careful study of the record, and of current research regarding the suggestibility of child witnesses. His decision will be studied and respected for years, while the Massachusetts' Supreme Judicial Court rulings that "finality" must trump justice will continue to receive the ridicule they so richly deserve. Harshbarger's comment to The Globe about Borenstein's decision (6/13/98) was "The judge's ruling today is not supported by the facts."

One of Harshbarger's defenses of these shameful prosecutions is that juries, after all, convicted the Amiraults. Jurors also convicted Sacco and Vanzetti, and the SJC upheld that conviction as well. Jurors and judges convicted the witches of Salem. But Edmund M. Powers, one of the Fells Acres jurors, perhaps made the best response to Harshbarger's argument. On 6/13/98, he told the Boston Herald, "I think the jury was duped - misled."

For more information, check out this web site. Or contact the Friends of Justice at Bob@freebaran.org.