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Gov. Baker withdraws controversial pardon request in 1980s child sex abuse case

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Gov. Charlie Baker made a surprise move Wednesday by withdrawing his recommendation for two pardons in a controversial child sex abuse case that's been debated for decades.

The Governor's Council held an hours-long hearing Tuesday on Baker's recommendation to pardon Gerald Amirault and his sister Cheryl Amirault LeFave. The siblings were convicted of sexually abusing children at the child care center their family ran in Malden in the 1980s. Baker's press secretary Terry MacCormack said in a statement that it is clear there is not enough support to continue.

“Following yesterday’s hearing, it is apparent that there are not sufficient votes from the Governor’s Council to support a pardon for the Amiraults," MacCormack's statement said. "Therefore, the Governor is withdrawing his pardon petition.”

Last month, Baker recommended the pardons saying that he doubted the strength of the evidence used to convict the Amiraults. The governor said he reviewed the legal rulings in the case and felt that the techniques used to interview the children have been discredited and their testimony would not be allowed in court today.

Gerald "Tookie" Amirault interviewed by the press at the Bay State Correctional Center in 2000. (Matt Stone/Boston Herald/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)
Gerald "Tookie" Amirault interviewed by the press at the Bay State Correctional Center in 2000. (Matt Stone/Boston Herald/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)

The families affected said they are relieved.

"I'm speechless," said Brenda Hurley-McCarthy who was among those who testified during Tuesday's Governor's Council hearing. Hurley-McCarthy said her daughter, who is now 42, has never recovered from being abused by the Amiraults at Fells Acre. She said a pardon would have sent a message that young abuse accusers should not be believed.

"Our children did not lie," Hurley-McCarthy said. "They were not brainwashed. It was not overzealous prosecutors. They want everyone to believe they're innocent. They're not."

Jenn Bennett, now 44, who testified against the Amiraults in the 1980s, said while she was pleased by the governor's decision to withdraw the pardon recommendations, she and others affected should have been notified about the pardons before they got to the Governor's Council.

"I do thank them for doing the right thing," Bennett said of the governor's decision to withdraw the pardon request. "I do have to say I'm still very upset that it was handled wrong in the beginning, but they did do the right thing this time.

James Sultan, the Amiraults attorney, said Baker's decision to withdraw the pardon is disappointing and the Amiraults are "good people" who are "crushed."

"Finally they thought they were actually going to get some justice, some relief, and instead they just got the rug pulled out from under them one final time," Sultan said. "And it's just sad and it's cruel."

He said the Governor's Council hearing Tuesday was one-sided and he felt the Amiraults should have attended. They did not at the request of the council chair who said their presence would have added tension to the hearing.

Sultan also said that the council allowed the Amiraults' opponents to defend the initial investigation and trial, but when he criticized the investigation, councilors reprimanded him for "re-trying the case."

Sultan said it's unlikely the Amiraults will apply for clemency again. Gerald Amirault has been out of prison since 2004 and his parole is up next year. Without the pardon, both he and his sister, Cheryl, will continue to be required to register as sex offenders and their criminal record will be preserved.

This segment aired on December 14, 2022.

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Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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