Sifting Through the Martha Coakley Controversy

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 17, 2010 — 15 Comments

On Tuesday a special election is being held in Massachusetts to pick the replacement for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, and despite the fact that the state is solidly liberal and reliably Democratic, it’s anyone’s guess as to who will win. Certainly part of it is that Scott Brown has been presenting as a liberal-ish Republican (except when he doesn’t), and has been running a tight campaign, but it’s also due to the fact that Democratic candidate Martha Coakley has done a terrible job, treating her election as fait accompli, and failing to energize voters. Which brings us to why I’m commenting on this race, Coakley’s involvement in the notorious Fells Acres Day Care Case. While Coakley didn’t prosecute the case, one of the most high-profile “ritual abuse” trials of the 1980s, she subsequently spent years defending the convictions as D.A., still insists the family was guilty, and placed bizarre restrictions on the accused once they were released.

“Coakley had previously allowed Gerald’s sister, Cheryl Amirault LeFave, to be released from prison on the curious condition that she not submit to television or film interviews. According to The Wall Street Journal’s Dorothy Rabinowitz, who championed the Amiraults’ case in a series of articles and in a book, Coakley also requested that the Amiraults’ attorney, James Sultan, who was negotiating Cheryl’s release, stop representing Gerald, which would have further crippled Gerald’s appeals for freedom.”

It would be fair to say that electing a possible Satanic Ritual Abuse/Organized Ritual Abuse true-believer to the Senate has made several Pagans, especially the ones who lived through the moral panics of 1980s, uneasy.

“It’s like Salem 1692 again: letting kids fantasize and treating those fantasies as evidence in court. “Spectral evidence.” On Tuesday, voters in Massachusetts will select a replacement for Senator Edward Kennedy. The Democrats are running Martha Coakley, a former district attorney and state attorney general, who still thinks the Amiraults’ case was handled correctly and who has fought to keep Gerald Amirault in prison because she thinks he is some kind of satanic mastermind. She is a Democrat, I’m a Democrat. But I don’t care if she likes kittens and puppies and takes good care of her aged parents.  For that reason alone–for being the spiritual descendant of the Salem witch-hunters–if I lived in Massachusetts, I would not vote for Martha Coakley.”

Chas Clifton’s sentiments are echoed by Beliefnet Pagan blogger Gus diZerega.

“Perhaps most revealing with respect to Coakley was the conditions she imposed on people she allowed to be released after years of confinement.  They could not talk to the press nor could their lawyer be used to help another family member.  These conditions have nothing to do with guilt or innocence and a great deal to do with covering up abuses of power.  What was Coakley hiding?  We have seen a lot of such abuses and we do not need another Democrat inclined to do the same.  There already are more than enough Democrats and Republicans of that ilk.”

Her participation in moral panics are bad enough, but her steadfast defense of the Fells Acres convictions seems to also extend to a “law enforcement doesn’t make mistakes and shouldn’t be questioned” philosophy.

“Last year, Coakley chose to personally argue her state’s case before the Supreme Court in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts. Despite the recent headlines detailing forensic mishaps, fraudulent testimony and crime lab incompetence, Coakley argued that requiring crime lab technicians to be present at trial for questioning by defense attorneys would place too large a burden on prosecutors. The Supreme Court found otherwise, in a decision that had Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia coming down on Coakley’s left.”

Of course, with Obama’s health care plan possibly on the line, many are urging voters to “hold their nose” and vote for Coakley anyway. Indeed, I know of some Massachusetts Pagans who’ve indicated that they will be (reluctantly) voting for Coakley, and a commenter on Chas Clifton’s blog sums up many of their talking points.

“I understand your feelings, but I’m a Masschusetts voter, and I will vote for Martha Coakley.  The whole SRA thing was a travesty, but even so Coakley is much better than her Republican opponent Scott Brown, who is anti-choice for women, pro-death penalty, opposed to the public health care legislation, and opposed to gay marriage (which we already have in Massachusetts). Coakley isn’t perfect, but if Brown is elected it will be a disaster for our state and country.”

I want health care reform too, heck, I want a single payer system! I’m also pro-choice, but I’m troubled when serious accusations about a candidate abusing their powers are made, and then swept aside in the name of party unity and the fear of legislative gridlock. The Boston Globe, in endorsing Coakley, praises her for “prosecuting child abusers”, never noting that some of those alleged abusers may have been completely innocent. As I’ve said before, I truly hope Coakley isn’t a SRA true-believer, because if we do see a revival of “Satanic Panic” in America, the last thing we need is a Senator willing to craft laws that will throw even more innocent people in jail.

So, to my Massachusetts readers, who are you voting for? Why? Do certain issues trump others, no matter how serious they may be? I’d really like to know, because I certainly don’t envy your choices right now. Perhaps that is why some Democrats are already spinning for a Coakley loss?

Jason Pitzl-Waters