Without Votes, Baker Withdraws Amirault Pardon Bids
By Sam Doran and Chris Lisinski
State House News Service
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, DEC. 14, 2022…..Minutes before a vote could have occurred Wednesday on a pair of controversial clemency bids, Gov. Charlie Baker pulled back his request to pardon two Amirault family members convicted in the 1980s Fells Acre child sex abuse trials.
Baker’s reversal came a day after the Governor’s Council held a tense and emotionally fraught hearing on the proposal, and some councilors said Wednesday they thought the pardon petition should have been presented differently.
“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. Therefore, the Governor is withdrawing his pardon petition,” spokesman Terry MacCormack wrote.
The administration’s announcement to the press came just eight minutes before the council’s formal session on Wednesday when potential roll call votes on the pardons were anticipated.
The council spent six hours Tuesday hearing arguments about whether to grant pardons to Gerald “Tooky” Amirault and Cheryl Amirault LeFave, both of whom have maintained their innocence after serving prison sentences.
Baker said last month that he believed the pair should be pardoned because he had “grave doubt regarding the evidentiary strength of these convictions.”
During the hearing, which neither Baker nor the Amirault siblings attended, some councilors criticized the proposed pardons — which the Parole Board voted not to recommend — and aired frustrations at Baker over what they described as a lack of explanation for his decision.
Multiple councilors, including a supporter of the Amiraults, told the News Service on Wednesday they thought the hearing had veered too much into “re-trying” the facts of the original case, and did not focus enough on customary merits for a pardon.
“I didn’t think it went well,” said Councilor Robert Jubinville, a defense attorney who supported the pardons and previously likened the Fells Acre trials to the 17th century Salem Witch Trials.
The Milton Democrat said the Amiraults’ legal team brought up a “battle” and “both sides got into who did it and who didn’t do it, and where do you get with that? And as far as I’m concerned, it’s nothing to do with the pardon.”
Pardons are intended to grant forgiveness for a criminal conviction, not serve as a referendum on the convict’s guilt.
In Baker’s own clemency guidelines, which the governor issued in 2020, he wrote: “Review of a petition for a pardon is not intended to serve as a review of the proceedings of the trial or appellate courts, or of the guilt of the petitioner. It is mainly intended to remove the barriers that are sometimes associated with a criminal record, thereby facilitating the reintegration of the petitioner into his or her community.”
“I don’t think this petition met the governor’s own guidelines. And I think that was highly problematic,” Councilor Eileen Duff said.
“Talk more about what they’ve done since they’ve been out, and what they did in jail. You know, they had no record going in,” Jubinville said of the Amiraults. “Talk about all of the restrictions, he’s never had a violation. Talk those things up to me. But we’re not judges. We’re not doing an appeal here.”
Councilor Terry Kennedy of Lynnfield, who said he would have voted for the pardons, told the News Service that “the two lawyers who came in on each side of the issue basically tried to re-try the case, and didn’t talk about what they should have been talking about — what the Amiraults have been doing since they were released from jail. That’s what I wanted to hear. And it was barely mentioned.”
Kennedy said Baker’s move Wednesday to take the pardons off the table was “the appropriate thing to do, given that they didn’t have the votes.”
South Coast Councilor Joseph Ferreira said he walked into Tuesday’s hearing with an “open mind” and “definitely wanted to hear and size up the witnesses” after reviewing hundreds of pages of documents. A former Somerset police chief, he said he was moved by testimony from victims and the original case’s lead prosecutor, Laurence Hardoon, and also read letters from police officers who had been involved in the case.
“We all make credibility assessments based on our experiences in life. And I was impressed with the prosecution’s presentation, the victim witness advocate’s presentation, the victims recounting the things that happened in their life 35, 40 years ago,” the Swansea Democrat said.
He added that he thought it “peculiar” the Amiraults would seek pardons, suggested Gerald Amirault could have sought a commutation of his remaining sentence, and noted that pardons are acts “of forgiveness … which presumes that something happened to be forgiven.”
Duff would not say how she would have voted Wednesday, before adding, “I will tell you this: that I didn’t sleep last night. I really didn’t. This has been a very difficult thing, because we’re not supposed to re-try it. We really can only work off of the governor’s guidelines. And the governor didn’t follow his own guidelines.”
Some councilors faulted Baker for not making a case for his request, or providing the council with any supplementary documentation to back up the case.
“The governor gave us literally nothing. Nothing,” Duff said, adding that “every single bit of information that any of these councilors got was on their own.”
Councilor Paul DePalo emphasized at the hearing that a one-paragraph statement in a press release was the only argument he heard from Baker in favor of pardoning the siblings.
The Worcester Democrat on Wednesday complimented the Amiraults’ lawyer, James Sultan, as an “effective advocate” and said that documents Sultan sent to the council were “the only materials the council received directly without proactively seeking them out.”
He contrasted the marathon hearing, which ran from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., with another hearing councilors held earlier Tuesday on the commutation case of convicted murderer Ramadan Shabazz, whose clemency bid was unanimously supported by councilors on Wednesday.
At the Shabazz hearing, DePalo said, “the focus was not on the underlying conviction, but was on the petitioner’s efforts at growth and restorative justice in the intervening years.”