Prosecution of Innocent Man Seals Martha Coakley’s Defeat
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
By Carey Roberts
Following a breath-taking electoral surge, Scott Brown took the seat formerly held by liberal patron saint Ted Kennedy, handily defeating Democrat Martha Coakley in the Massachusetts senate election.
Although the national press spun the contest as a referendum on Obamacare, another powder-keg issue lurked behind the headlines: Martha Coakley’s prominent role in prosecuting a child abuse case and her contended culpability of the “primary male offender.”
It was back in 1984 when Violet Amirault, son Gerald, and daughter Cheryl, operators of the Fells Acre Day School in Malden, found themselves accused of child molestation. The charges were lurid as they were absurd: plunging a butcher knife into a 4-year-old boy’s rectum (which miraculously left no mark of injury) and tying a naked child to a tree in front of the school to be anally impaled with a “magic wand” (an incident to which there were no witnesses).
The children also accused two make-believe persons, “Mr. Gatt” and “Al,” as well as the child therapist investigating the case, of molesting them as well. Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, and Mr. Greenjeans reportedly escaped legal scrutiny.
Following a sham trial, Violet and her daughter were handed an 8-20 year sentence, while Gerald was sent to the slammer for a 30-40 year stint.
Based on accumulating evidence of perjury and fraud, the case was reopened eight years later.
Following widely-publicized hearings, Superior Court Judge Isaac Borenstein sadly concluded, “Every trick in the book had been used to get the children to say what the investigators wanted.” The Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly similarly editorialized the prosecutors “seemed unwilling to admit they might have sent innocent people to jail for crimes that never occurred.”
Enter Martha Coakley, who took over as the local district attorney in 1999. By that time, public opinion was running sharply in favor of the defendants. (Violet had recently died of cancer, left penniless and broken by the accusations.)
Coakley was willing to allow Cheryl to go free. But as far as Gerald, that was a different matter. After all, he was a man, the “primary male offender,” as Coakley put it. (She never explained how it is possible to have a “primary offender” for a crime that never took place.)
So when the Massachusetts Governor’s Board of Pardons voted 5-0 to release Gerald Amirault in 2000, prosecutor Martha Coakley channeled her inner community organizer and media maven. She unearthed sympathetic parents to lobby the Massachusetts governor to overturn the Board’s recommendation. Then she organized media events where persons spoke movingly of their fear of Gerald’s planned release.
These maneuvers kept Gerald behind bars for two more years. Even afterwards, he was forced to wear an electronic tracking device, to report every time he left his house, to obey a curfew, and to avoid certain parts of town. This precluded him from finding regular employment.
This legal travesty did not attract national attention until last Fall. At that point, Coakley held a nearly insurmountable 30-point lead over her Republican challenger.
Then Ann Coulter devoted her December 9 column to the case, calling it the “second-most notorious witch trial in Massachusetts history” and charging Coakley had “kept a clearly innocent man in prison in order to advance her political career.”
A month later, Dorothy Rabinowitz delivered the coup de grace. Recounting in the Wall Street Journal how prosecutors cast Gerald as the chief predator, “his gender qualifying him, in their view, as the best choice for the role,” Rabinowitz adjudged the superfluous prosecution was “powerful testimony to the mind and capacities of this aspirant to a Senate seat.”
The Rabinowitz editorial was published on January 14. The same day a Suffolk University poll spotted Brown a 4-point lead over Martha Coakley.
And when the ballots were tallied nearly a week later, Scott Brown had defeated Coakley by a resounding five-point margin.
Four years ago prosecutor Michael Nifong’s political aspirations came to an abrupt halt for prosecuting the three Duke lacrosse players. And now Martha Coakley has lost her bid for the United States Senate.
Prosecuting innocent men for crimes they didn’t commit is no longer the sure-fire formula to electoral success it once appeared to be.