Judge Grants Women New Trial On Sexual Abuse Conviction
BOSTON (AP) _ A judge today ruled that two women convicted of sexually abusing children at a suburban day care center eight years ago should be granted a new trial because their child accusers were allowed to face away from them while testifying.
Judge Robert A. Barton also set a bail hearing on Thursday for Violet Amirault and her daughter, Cheryl Amirault LeFave. The women could be released from prison while the new trial is being scheduled.
Barton’s ruling does not affect the third person convicted in the case, Violet Amirault’s son Gerald R. ``Tooky″ Amirault. Amirault, 42, was tried separately, and his appeal is still pending.
Mrs. Amirault, now 71, ran the Fells Acres Day School in suburban Malden, and her son and daughter worked for her.
In his ruling, issued in Lowell Superior Court, Barton said the women deserved a new trial because four children testified while facing the jury, with their backs to the Amiraults.
He said the right of defendants to confront their accusers face to face is fundamental to a fair trial, adding, ``The special seating arrangement for the children prevented justice from being done.″
Gerald Amirault’s appeal is based on a similar argument.
The Middlesex County district attorney’s office, which originally prosecuted the case and opposed the women’s request for a new trial, must decide whether to appeal Barton’s ruling, grant the women a new trial or drop the case against them.
Thomas Reilly, the Middlesex County district attorney, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
Mrs. Amirault, the oldest women in the state prison system, and her daughter, who is 37, have been eligible for parole for over a year but have refused to accept it because they would have to admit their crimes to be released.
They are serving eight- to 20-year sentences. Gerald Amirault, Violet’s son, is serving a 30- to 40-year sentence and is not yet eligible for parole.
Mrs. Amirault operated the school for nearly 20 years without incident. Her daughter was a teacher and her son was a driver. One of his duties was cleaning children after they wet themselves.
On Sept. 2, 1984, a mother called a child abuse hot line, claiming that her 5-year-old son showed signs of sexual abuse. Gerald Amirault was arrested three days later, without even being questioned about the charges. The school was shut down six days later and the following day, police held a meeting with parents and described things they should ask their children about.
During the trial, the child told of being molested by a clown in a ``magic room.″ Some told fantastic tales of being hung from a tree naked in front of their classmates, or of watching one of the women dismember animals.
None of the other teachers ever reported seeing problems.
Gerald Amirault was convicted in 1986 and the women were found guilty the next year. The convictions have been upheld through five appeals.
The case was thrust back into the national spotlight earlier this year, however, when The Wall Street Journal published two columns and an editorial challenging the convictions.