Letters to the Editor: The Real Darkness Is Child Abuse

 

WALL STREET JOURNAL (J) 02/24/95

Copyright (c) 1995

Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Larry Hardoon's Letter

As the chief prosecutor of both of the Amirault cases I am writing to prevent the public from being misled into believing that an injustice occurred as Dorothy Rabinowitz alleges in her Jan. 30 editorial-page piece "A Darkness in Massachusetts."

Her suggestion that the convictions were based on "some of the most fantastic claims ever presented" presumptuously ignores the reality of the cases. The three Amiraults -- Gerald, Violet and Cheryl – were convicted after two trials before different judges and juries almost one year apart. They were represented by able and well-known defense counsel. The convictions were upheld after review by state and federal appellate courts. The McMartin case in California was the result of a botched legal system and Kelly Michaels's conviction was overturned because of legal errors. Contrary to Ms. Rabinowitz's implication, the Amirault convictions were neither of these.

The first trial involving Gerald Amirault lasted a record three and a half months. Nine children and their parents testified and were subject to extensive cross-examination. The second trial of Violet and Cheryl Amirault involved five children. The entire proceedings were public and extensively covered by the media.

The children testified to being photographed and molested by acts that included penetration by objects. To the average person unfamiliar with the gruesome-ness of child pornography, the allegations of penetration by objects seem bizarre. The testimony of a postal inspector experienced in child pornography was properly admitted to educate the jury regarding the plausibility of the children's testimony.

The overturned order of the trial judge changing Violet and Cheryl Amirault's sentences five years after they were imposed was nothing more than a political squabble between the judge and the parole board over who dictates the appropriate release time for convicts. Violet Amirault was convicted of threats to commit a crime and Cheryl Amirault was convicted of assault and battery for acts committed while in prison. These subsequent convictions may have played a role in the decision of the parole board to deny parole.

Amirault was handled differently from cases in other parts of the country. The initial investigation and interviewing of the children was divided among different investigators, contrary to the assertion in the story that the allegations were developed through one pediatric nurse. Uniquely similar disclosures came from children with no connection of any kind to each other who were handled by different teams of investigators. Many children involved in the prosecution were from families who were initially hostile or skeptical toward the prosecution. Only after these children made unexpected disclosures directly to parents did they join the prosecution effort. The implication in the article that the children's allegations of abuse were tainted by improper interviewing is groundless and not true.

Studies show, as did testimony from a nationally recognized pediatric gynecologist, that most sexually molested young children have absolutely normal physical examinations. However, in Amirault, the majority of the female children who testified had some relevant physical findings, as did several female children involved in the investigation who did not participate in the trial. The findings included labial adhesions and hymenal scarring of the sort present in a very small percentage of non-sexually abused children.

The defendants had a full and fair opportunity to present any evidence they wanted the jury to consider. Although it has no significance in a court of law due to the presumption of innocence and the right against self-incrimination, the choice by Violet and Cheryl Amirault not to testify in their own behalf at trial can certainly be the subject of conjecture by the public at large. They passed up the single most important opportunity they had to tell their story. Isn't this fact, unmentioned by Ms. Rabinowitz, something the public ought to know?

The investigation and handling of these cases was not flawless. In 1984, when the Amirault case began, law enforcement was just beginning to cope with the explosion of sexual abuse into the criminal-justice system. Improvements have been implemented since then, many of which had their inception in that case. Today, there are still more innovations that can be implemented by the judicial system to make the process fairer to both the children and the defendants in these cases.

Ms. Rabinowitz's article is a superficial, one-sided look at a case handled extensively and carefully by the legal system. The victims and their families in these cases have been irrevocably harmed by what was done to them by the Amiraults. Every argument raised by Ms. Rabinowitz was ably presented by the defense at the trials. The juries, by their verdicts, rejected these arguments. Justice was done.  

Laurence E. Hardoon

Boston

 

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