A recent column by Francis Wilkinson in The Week Magazine puts an uncomfortable spotlight on Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts Attorney General who is a front-runner for the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. It seems her role in the notorious Fells Acres Day Care Case is causing some waves among Democrats with a long memory for abuses of power.
“Coakley did not prosecute the case, which was already under way when she joined the office as an assistant district attorney in 1986. But years later, after the day-care abuse hysteria had subsided and she had won the office’s top job, she worked to keep the convicted “ringleader,” Gerald Amirault, behind bars despite widespread doubts that a crime had been committed … the convictions won by the Middlesex DA in the Fells Acres case have not borne up well. By today’s standards, the prosecution of the Amirault family, who owned and operated the day-care center in Malden, Mass., looks like a master class in battling witchcraft.”
It looked like “battling witchcraft” because these “ritual abuse” (aka “Satanic abuse” or “organized abuse”) cases often hinged on rumours and false testimony of an imaginary network of underground Satanic sex and abuse-cults. Children were often prodded and coaxed into false testimony, much of which is recanted when those same children grow up, and many innocent men and women spent years, sometimes decades, of their lives behind bars. In the instance of the Fells Acres case, children were interviewed by nurse and SRA true-believer Susan J. Kelley, who elicited flatly implausible testimony about sex with bladed implements and “clowns” in “magic rooms” from children that a judge later called “improper” and “biased”.
“The evidence in this case is nothing short of overwhelming with improper interviewing techniques. The bias toward the Amiraults by investigators and interviewers from the beginning. Parental and other family influences. All of it leading to these tragic results.”
Despite the mounting evidence that this case was handled improperly, and that it was very likely the Amirault family were innocent of the charges brought against them, Coakley stubbornly refused to revisit the case. As D.A. she opposed parole for the family despite many lawyers thinking this was a “travesty” of justice, and she made strange conditions for the release of Cheryl Amirault LeFave.
“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.”
These conditions, and this case, has made some Democrats uneasy about her candidacy, and seems to be causing her supporters to close ranks on the issue. As for Coakley, she defends her decisions regarding the case, saying she feels the Amirault family were indeed guilty.
“Based on my own extensive experience with child abuse investigations and cases, and my thorough review of all the evidence, including that which is often taken out of context and deemed “exculpatory,” I also believe the convictions were sound, and that he received a fair trial. It is for all of the above reasons that I, as Middlesex District Attorney, opposed his commutation, and I stand by that decision to this day.”
One wonders if this is a case of not wanting to admit to a mistake, access to some sort of mysterious insider knowledge that several lawyers, reporters, judges, and parole boards don’t have, or if Coakley is (like the judge that oversaw Gerald Amirault’s trial) an SRA true-believer. I sincerely hope it isn’t the latter, because if we 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 based almost solely on improperly gathered testimony and hysteria.