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LOCAL NEWS

Swift won't free Tooky

by David R. Guarino and Elisabeth J. Beardsley
Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Convicted child molester Gerald ``Tooky'' Amirault lost his best shot at freedom yesterday, denied commutation of his sentence by acting Gov. Jane M. Swift in another stunning turn to the roller coaster abuse case.

Swift rejected the unanimous July Parole Board recommendation that there was ``real and substantial doubt'' of Amirault's guilt.

Taking sides in a highly charged case as she drops in election-year polls, Swift said Amirault should be jailed at least until he's up for parole in 2004 on his 30- to 40-year sentence.

``She carefully analyzed every bit of information generated through the investigation and came to her decision that the verdict was just and the sentence was appropriate,'' said Swift spokesman James Borghesani.

The Republican governor is preparing for a sharp backlash when she announces the decision today but, aides admit, she feared more the response if she released a convicted molester as priest pedophilia cases rock the Archdiocese of Boston.

In a move certain to add fuel to the fire, Swift aides said she used the case of serial molesting church worker Christopher Reardon as a guide in her decision.

One of Amirault's children, Katie, 21, said: ``It's definitely a shock. My emotions are all flying now.''

But victims rejoiced last night, praising the acting governor for standing up to the Parole Board and claiming vindication after years of doubts about the case.

``All along, they've always told the truth,'' said Harriet Dell'Anno of Lynn, whose daughter, Jamie, remains in therapy over the incidents.

Barbara Standke of Tewksbury, whose son, Brian Martinello, was molested when he was 4, said, ``He may be doing 20 years, but my son's doing life.''

Amirault, his sister, Cheryl LeFave, and their mother, Violet, were convicted after a parade of children told horror stories about being fondled, raped and tied to trees, some claiming to have been penetrated by knives.

They called Gerald Amirault a ``bad clown'' who tortured them in his ``secret room'' at the Fells Acres day care center in Malden.

Amirault, convicted in 1986, has served 15 years of the 30- to 40-year sentence on eight counts of child rape and seven counts of indecent assault and battery on a child.

LeFave and Violet Amirault were freed in 1995 after an appeals court ruled that the methods used by prosecutors and investigators were suggestive to the impressionable child witnesses.

Through their release and his mother's death in 1997, Amirault has maintained his innocence - refusing to admit guilt even when lighter sentences were suggested.

Appeals courts refused pleas by Gerald Amirault but the Parole Board was swayed, writing in unusually strong language that keeping him jailed would ``constitute gross unfairness.''

Swift's former legal counsel, Leonard Lewin, reviewed the case for six months and met with more than 35 people, Borghesani said. With all the charges and time served, the aides said, Amirault was handed two to three years per victim - which Swift considers ``fair and appropriate.''

Though Swift met with the family and Amirault victims, aides said her decision was based solely on the specifics of the case and others with similar circumstances. ``She fully realizes that there were super-charged emotions on both sides . . . but her decision had to be based on the information,'' Borghesani said.

Several top administration officials pointed to the Reardon case as the governor's guide.

Reardon, a youth worker at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Middleton, was arrested in 2000 and eventually pleaded guilty to molesting 24 boys. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison but, because of more rigorous ``truth in sentencing'' guidelines adopted in the 1990s, will serve at least 32 years.

``She looked at the structure of his sentence, compared it to sentences of people convicted of similar crimes and concluded that it is an appropriate sentence,'' Borghesani said. Asked for examples, he offered only Reardon.

Two members of the Parole Board declined comment last night. The Amirault family has scheduled a noon press conference today.

The sudden decision rocked Amirault's victims, leaving some too stunned to speak to reporters and others clapping. Standke said she started clapping when she saw the announcement on a TV newscast but burst into tears when she saw photos of victims - including her son - flash on the screen.

``The reality is it all comes back . . . it hurts all over again,'' she said.

The acting governor toiled over the decision, but not for political reasons, aides insisted. ``There's going to be reaction, of course, but she's prepared to deal with it,'' a senior administration official said.

 

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