This morning, my partner Jim and I attended the press conference that followed the filing of a petition with Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci, requesting the commutation of Gerald Amirault's sentence. Here are my notes.
The press conference was opened by Professor Charles Ogletree, who introduced attorneys Harvey Silverglate and Jamie Sultan; Gerald's wife, Patti; their daughter, Katie; and Gerald's sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave. Ogletree said he hoped that the Fells Acres case was entering its final chapter, and that we will soon have finality and closure, with justice.
Jamie Sultan explained the process of obtaining a commutation. The petition first goes to the advisory board, which is essentially the parole board. The board makes a recommendation to the Governor. If the Governor grants the petition, it must then be ratified by the Governor's Council.
Sultan played a short recorded message from Gerald, in which Gerald thanked all of the supporters who have stood by him through the long difficult nightmare. Gerald said he "wants to go home to his wonderful wife and three beautiful children." He expressed his hope that the governor will grant his petition.
Sultan expressed his concern that the prosecutors are trying to introduce a new spin into the case -- that "in these kinds of cases, the women aren't so important, but there's always an evil man" -- in this instance, Gerald -- "who is the real wrongdoer." This allegation was made in the Herald today by a prosecutor who chose to remain anonymous. Sultan pointed out that this was not the original position of the prosecutors. The allegations in Gerald's case were identical to those in the cases of his mother and his sister. Gerald's case is no different. Sultan said that to suggest otherwise is "a blatant falsehood and a terrible misrepresentation of this case." The prosecutors are trying to rewrite the record.
Sultan also explained that they are seeking a commutation (not a pardon) because that is all they are allowed to do at this point in the case. He did not rule out the possibility of a later pardon, which would clear the convictions.
Patti Amirault spoke next. She pointed out that their son P.J. (now a strapping 15 1/2 year old) was born two days after the case started. She said of her husband, "He's missed out on everything these wonderful kids have done." If Gerald is released, Patti said she hopes that they can "pick up where we left off."
Patti said, "We've been shot at. The kids have been chased and trapped in people's houses. They've done remarkably well. But it breaks our hearts to go on doing this anymore."
Katie spoke after her mother. She concluded by saying, "We've had to live our whole childhood without our father. We need him back home."
Ogletree spoke again after Katie. He said some recent developments have encouraged him. He mentioned two recent incidents in which Suffolk County DA Ralph Martin had cleared the names of two people who had been falsely accused (and one convicted) by his office. Ogletree also mentioned the moratorium on the death penalty recently instituted by Illinois Governor Ryan. Of the Amiraults, Ogletree said, "This family has suffered more than anyone. Their privacy has been lost. Their innocence has been lost."
Ogletree also said that Governor Cellucci has said that he would seriously consider a petition for commutation and that he had grave concerns about what has happened in this case.
Cheryl Amirault-LeFave (bound by a gag order imposed by Middlesex DA Martha Coakley) asked that all cameras and recording devices be turned off before she spoke. Cheryl asked that "people should look upon us as a family that has persevered." She said that her brother needed to reunite with his family and reacclimate himself to society.
After Cheryl spoke, the cameras were turned back on for a question-and-answer period.
Jamie Sultan explained that commutation is an established process, and that they are using it because in this case "the judicial system has simply failed."
Harvey Silverglate mentioned that Fells Acres is just one of a large number of cases. There was a national panic over child sex abuse. Most cases have been reversed in one way or another. But many people remain in prison. "There are other cases right here in Massachusetts."
Ogletree said that he had expected the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to do the right thing. But when they did not, he saw it as his absolute duty and obligation to become involved because of "a grave injustice was being done to a family."
Harvey Silverglate explained that he had been a criminal defense lawyer for 33 years. He has become "appalled at how easy it is for an innocent person to be convicted." And courts (including the US Supreme Court) have now made it very difficult to obtain post-conviction review based on new evidence. He expressed his abhorrence of the opinion expressed by former Justice Charles Fried that finality at times must be placed above justice. Silverglate expressed his relief that Fried was back at Harvard and thus off the bench.
Ogletree announced that there will be a national conference on child sex-abuse investigations that will take place at Harvard next September.
When asked what she and Gerald might do if Gerald is released from prison, Patti said that the "first thing Gerald would do would be to visit his mother's grave."
Sultan wrapped up the conference. He said they were going to the Governor because the "SJC has continually slammed the door in our faces. We are stubborn, but not stupid."
Finally, Sultan expressed his gratitude for the enormous amount of public
support the Amiraults have received. Heinous allegations were made against
these people. Yet they are not vilified. People are outraged by the convictions.
"Most people understand that something went terribly wrong."
Please write Governor Cellucci and ask him to Commute Gerald's sentence.
The address is:
Excellency The Governor
A. Paul Cellucci
The State House
Boston MA 02133