NORFOLK, Mass. (AP) – A former day-care worker was released from prison on parole Friday, 18 years after his conviction in one of the most bizarre and bitterly disputed child-molestation cases in the United States.
Gerald Amirault, 50, left Bay State Correctional Center with his wife, Patti, his lawyer and about a dozen family members and friends. He waved and smiled nervously. “It’s a bit overwhelming,” Amirault said.
“I’m grateful to my wife and my children and the family and friends I have that are surrounding me. This is what’s representative of Gerald Amirault and his family, not this case, this Fells Acres fraud.”
Amirault planned to return home to Malden, Mass., a city just north of Boston where he and his family ran the Fells Acres day care centre.
The centre was the site of the child-abuse scandal that led to Amirault’s 1986 conviction on charges of molesting and raping eight three- and four-year-old children.
His sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, and his late mother, Violet Amirault, were convicted in a separate trial and released in 1995.
The case came to symbolize changing attitudes toward the mass prosecution of child sex-abuse cases. The Amiraults argued they were victims, railroaded by questionable testimony from child witnesses they said were badgered by well-meaning therapists until they concocted tales of abuse.
Amirault pledged Friday to clear his family’s name and challenged the news media to investigate the case.
“I’m going to fight this case to the day I die,” he said.
“I’m going to get my name back.”
His accusers stand by their testimony, which included stories of Amirault dressing up as a clown and raping children with knives and the ritualistic slayings of animals.
But police never found evidence and the interview techniques used by investigators in the case have since been discredited.
Amirault, who was a handyman, driver and caregiver at the centre, maintained his innocence throughout his imprisonment, refusing to have counselling for sex abuse because he viewed it as an admission of guilt. The convictions have been criticized for more than decade after news reports raised questions about how the evidence was gathered.
The state Board of Pardons recommended in July 2001 that Amirault’s sentence be commuted but acting governor Jane Swift rejected the recommendation in February 2002.
He was granted parole last October and Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley announced earlier this month there was not enough evidence to have Amirault committed indefinitely as a sexually dangerous person.
His accusers said the pain reawakened by his release has been amplified by the doubts about the case.
“I think people look at us as if he’s the innocent person and we’re the evildoers,” said Harriet Dell’Anno, whose daughter, Jaime, testified against Amirault.
A number of mass child-abuse convictions from the 1980s have been overturned, including those involving workers at the Little Rascals day care centre in Edenton, N.C. In another notorious case involving the McMartin Preschool near Los Angeles, charges were dropped by prosecutors after juries deadlocked on criminal charges.