erald, it was alleged, had plunged a wide-blade butcher knife into the rectum of a 4-year-old boy, which he then had trouble removing. When a teacher in the school saw him in action with the knife, she asked him what he was doing, and then told him not to do it again, a child said. On this testimony, Gerald was convicted of a rape which had, miraculously, left no mark or other injury. Violet had tied a boy to a tree in front of the school one bright afternoon, in full view of everyone, and had assaulted him anally with a stick, and then with "a magic wand." She would be convicted of these charges. Cheryl had cut the leg off a squirrel.The Amiraults were found guilty on the basis of the horror of the charges, not the evidence against them. As remorse set in, the mother and daughter were given a retrial and set free, but Gerald Amirault languished in prison. The judge in the case and other legal observers issued unprecedented, fiery criticism of the prosecution. Still Gerald was kept in prison. Enter Martha Coakley who became the new Middlesex County district attorney in 1999.
Other than such testimony, the prosecutors had no shred of physical or other proof that could remotely pass as evidence of abuse. But they did have the power of their challenge to jurors: Convict the Amiraults to make sure the battle against child abuse went forward. Convict, so as not to reject the children who had bravely come forward with charges.
Ms. Coakley agreed to revise and revoke her sentence to time served—but certain things had to be clear, she told the press. Cheryl's [Gerald's sister] case, and that of Gerald, she explained, had nothing to do with one another—a startling proposition given the horrific abuse charges, identical in nature, of which all three of the Amiraults had been convicted.This is a low, despicable woman. If she loses on Tuesday and her political career ends, it will be something approaching divine justice.
No matter: When women were involved in such cases, the district attorney explained, it was usually because of the presence of "a primary male offender." According to Ms. Coakley's scenario, it was Gerald who had dragged his mother and sister along. Every statement she made now about Gerald reflected the same view, and the determination that he never go free. No one better exemplified the mindset and will of the prosecutors who originally had brought this case.
Before agreeing to revise Cheryl's sentence to time served, Ms. Coakley asked the Amiraults' attorney, James Sultan, to pledge—in exchange—that he would stop representing Gerald and undertake no further legal action on his behalf. She had evidently concluded that with Sultan gone—Sultan, whose mastery of the case was complete—any further effort by Gerald to win freedom would be doomed. Mr. Sultan, of course, refused.
In 2000, the Massachusetts Governor's Board of Pardons and Paroles met to consider a commutation of Gerald's sentence. After nine months of investigation, the board, reputed to be the toughest in the country, voted 5-0, with one abstention, to commute his sentence. Still more newsworthy was an added statement, signed by a majority of the board, which pointed to the lack of evidence against the Amiraults, and the "extraordinary if not bizarre allegations" on which they had been convicted.
Editorials in every major and minor paper in the state applauded the Board's findings. District Attorney Coakley was not idle either, and quickly set about organizing the parents and children in the case, bringing them to meetings with Acting Gov. Jane Swift, to persuade her to reject the board's ruling. Ms. Coakley also worked the press, setting up a special interview so that the now adult accusers could tell reporters, once more, of the tortures they had suffered at the hands of the Amiraults, and of their panic at the prospect of Gerald going free.
On Feb. 20, 2002, six months after the Board of Pardons issued its findings, the governor denied Gerald's commutation.
Attorney General Martha Coakley—who had proven so dedicated a representative of the system that had brought the Amirault family to ruin, and who had fought so relentlessly to preserve their case—has recently expressed her view of this episode. Questioned about the Amiraults in the course of her current race for the U.S. Senate, she told reporters of her firm belief that the evidence against the Amiraults was "formidable" and that she was entirely convinced "those children were abused at day care center by the three defendants."There should be a special place in hell for such a person.
What does this say about her candidacy? (Ms. Coakley declined to be interviewed.) If the current attorney general of Massachusetts actually believes, as no serious citizen does, the preposterous charges that caused the Amiraults to be thrown into prison—the butcher knife rape with no blood, the public tree-tying episode, the mutilated squirrel and the rest—that is powerful testimony to the mind and capacities of this aspirant to a Senate seat. It is little short of wonderful to hear now of Ms. Coakley's concern for the rights of terror suspects at Guantanamo—her urgent call for the protection of the right to the presumption of innocence.
If the sound of ghostly laughter is heard in Massachusetts these days as this campaign rolls on, with Martha Coakley self-portrayed as the guardian of justice and civil liberties, there is good reason.