Baker pardons Amiraults in controversial daycare sex abuse case
Also commutes murder sentence of Ramadan Shabazz
GOV. CHARLIE BAKER on Friday pardoned Gerald Amirault and Cheryl Amirault Lefave, who were convicted of sexually abusing children in a day care center in the 1980s, in a famous case that has been widely criticized for its lack of evidence and for allegations that child witnesses were improperly pressured into making accusations.
“The investigations and prosecutions of the Amiraults in the 1980s took place without the benefit of scientific studies that have in the intervening years led to widespread adoption of investigative protocols designed to protect objectivity and reliability in the investigation of child sex abuse cases,” Baker said in a statement. “Given the absence of these protections in these cases, and like many others who have reviewed the record of these convictions over the years, including legal experts, social scientists and even several judges charged with reviewing the cases, I am left with grave doubt regarding the evidentiary strength of these convictions.”
Tom Reilly, a former Massachusetts attorney general who prosecuted the Amirault case as Middlesex district attorney, said in a statement that while he stands by the decisions made at the time of the prosecution, Baker’s pardons are “a fitting end to a very troubled case.”
Violet Amirault was the owner of Fells Acres Day Care Center in Malden. In the mid-1980s, her son Gerald Amirault was charged with sexually abusing a child at the daycare. Ultimately, Violet, Gerald, and Violet’s daughter Cheryl Amirault Lefave were convicted of molesting multiple children at the day care.
The charges against Violet Amirault were dismissed against her posthumously.
Lefave was released from prison on bail in 1995, after eight years in jail, after a judge ruled in her favor granting a new trial. She later reached an agreement with prosecutors to avoid returning to jail once the court reinstated her convictions.
Gerald Amirault was released on parole in 2004, after 18 years in prison.
Baker’s pardons, if they are confirmed by the Governor’s Council, would finally drop the charges against Gerald Amirault and Cheryl Amirault Lefave, clearing their names.
In a second high-profile case, Baker also recommended commuting the sentence of Ramadan Shabazz from first-degree murder to second-degree murder, making him immediately eligible to apply for parole.
Shabazz, 72, has served 50 years in prison for the murders of Harry Jeffreys and Calvin Thorn. In 1971, Shabazz and another man, Raymond White, shot Jeffreys and Thorn, who were working at a Dorchester grocery store, then stole money from Thorn’s car. Shabazz was sentenced to death, but when the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional in 1976, his sentence was reduced to life imprisonment.
According to the governor’s office, Shabazz participated in over 50 rehabilitative programs in prison, including addiction treatment, anger management, and restorative justice classes. He worked as a GED tutor and a drug counselor and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. He was consistently employed while in prison.
Baker in a statement said Shabazz’s crime was “horrific,” but he decided to take other factors into consideration in recommending commutation. “He has not only taken full responsibility for his actions but has also dedicated his life in prison to bettering himself and serving as a mentor to others in prison,” Baker said. “Commutation serves as a strong motivation for an incarcerated individual to improve themselves, and Mr. Shabazz serves as a remarkable example of self-development for other incarcerated individuals.”
Baker also recommended pardons for four other individuals: Brian Morin, Camille Joseph Chaisson, Michael Biagini, and Robert Busa, all for decades-old minor offenses.
Morin, who lives in Clinton, served 18 months in jail for his 1980 convictions for larceny and assault and battery. No police records were available from the incident. Morin says he was 16 when he and his friends confronted a group of teenagers who were illegally setting off fireworks, after the police tried to blame Morin and his friends. Morin is now a homeowner, husband, and parent. He is an engineer who has held a job for 27 years and has coached youth sports and raised money for charities. He is seeking a pardon so he can renew a firearms license for hunting purposes.
In 1966, Chaisson was sentenced to 10 days in jail on larceny-related charges and three months in jail for larceny and breaking and entering. He broke into the Mohawk Valley Auto Club in Templeton and stole tools, a battery, battery charger, and candy.
Chaisson, now 78 and living in New Braintree, is married and works as a truck driver. He is seeking a pardon to obtain a firearm because he is a sportsman and hunter.
Biagini is seeking pardons for a 1965 conviction of being a minor in possession of alcohol, and three assault and battery convictions in the 1960s and 1970s, two of which were resolved with a fine and the third of which resulted in three months in jail. Biagini, now 74, told the Parole Board that he had limited memories of the assault charges, but one involved a “tussle” over a woman.
Biagini served in the National Guard in the late 1960s, then worked for GE and as a truck driver. He was a volunteer firefighter and is the town water commissioner and a former board of health member in Cheshire. He is seeking a pardon because after holding a firearms license for 45 years, he has been barred from renewing it because of his old convictions.
Busa was found delinquent as a juvenile in 1970 for breaking and entering and larceny and a property violation. He said one of the offenses related to breaking windows in an abandoned school after the Boston Bruins won a championship.
Busa, of Milford, worked as a ranger at the State House for 14 years. He said he was a “wild” teenager, but was discharged honorably from the US Marine Corps and has stayed out of trouble since 1970. He wants to get a firearms license renewed.After not granting any pardons or commutations until 2022, the lame duck governor is wielding his pardon power more liberally in the final days of his term. Baker commuted the first-degree murder sentences of two men in January 2022, and in October pardoned eight individuals for decades-old offenses, mostly for minor charges.
All of Baker’s recommendations must be confirmed by the Governor’s Council before they go into effect.