Martha Coakley Fought To Keep Innocent People Behind Bars
That a Republican candidate is within reasonable striking distance of winning the US Senate seat which until recently was filled by the late Ted Kennedy underscores what a horrifically bad job the state Democratic Party did in selecting their candidate. State attorney general Martha Coakley has rapidly gained a national reputation for saying incredibly stupid things. As it turns out, however, there are serious reasons why no reasonable person, of either political party, should want to see Coakley in higher office.
Many remember the wave of bizarre day care child abuse cases which swept the country in the ’80s, featuring headline hungry prosecutors taking children to “recovered memory” counseling sessions in order to “discover” abuse which had been perpetrated upon them. Clinton era attorney general Janet Reno made her made her career, in part, by successfully prosecuting cases of ritual child abuse — which later turned out to be false charges.
One of the first of these highly publicized cases in which therapists extracted accusations of ritual abuse from very young children was the Amirault case in Malden, Massachusetts. Dorothy Rabinowitz (who received her 2001 Pulitzer Prize in part for her work in exposing ritual abuse witch hunts that resulted in false convictions) writes about how as Middlesex County district attorney, Martha Coakley fought to keep the surviving members of the Amirault family behind bars even it became clear that the charges against them were false:
…[I]n 1995, when Judge Robert Barton ordered a new trial for the women. Violet, now 72, and Cheryl had been imprisoned eight years. This toughest of judges, appalled as he came to know the facts of the case, ordered the women released at once. Judge Barton—known as Black Bart for the long sentences he gave criminals—did not thereafter trouble to conceal his contempt for the prosecutors. They would, he warned, do all in their power to hold on to Gerald, a prediction to prove altogether accurate.
No less outraged, Superior Court Judge Isaac Borenstein presided over a widely publicized hearings into the case resulting in findings that all the children’s testimony was tainted. He said that “Every trick in the book had been used to get the children to say what the investigators wanted.” The Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly—which had never in its 27 year history taken an editorial position on a case—published a scathing one directed at the prosecutors “who seemed unwilling to admit they might have sent innocent people to jail for crimes that had never occurred.”
It was clear, when Martha Coakley took over as the new Middlesex County district attorney in 1999, that public opinion was running sharply against the prosecutors in the case. Violet Amirault was now gone. Ill and penniless after her release, she had been hounded to the end by prosecutors who succeeded in getting the Supreme Judicial Court to void the women’s reversals of conviction. She lay waiting all the last days of her life, suitcase packed, for the expected court order to send her back to prison. Violet would die of cancer before any order came in September 1997.
That left Cheryl alone, facing rearrest. In the face of the increasing furor surrounding the case, Ms. Coakley agreed to revise and revoke her sentence to time served—but certain things had to be clear, she told the press. Cheryl’s case, and that of Gerald, she explained, had nothing to do with one another—a startling proposition given the horrific abuse charges, identical in nature, of which all three of the Amiraults had been convicted.
No matter: When women were involved in such cases, the district attorney explained, it was usually because of the presence of “a primary male offender.” According to Ms. Coakley’s scenario, it was Gerald who had dragged his mother and sister along. Every statement she made now about Gerald reflected the same view, and the determination that he never go free. No one better exemplified the mindset and will of the prosecutors who originally had brought this case.
Before agreeing to revise Cheryl’s sentence to time served, Ms. Coakley asked the Amiraults’ attorney, James Sultan, to pledge—in exchange—that he would stop representing Gerald and undertake no further legal action on his behalf. She had evidently concluded that with Sultan gone—Sultan, whose mastery of the case was complete—any further effort by Gerald to win freedom would be doomed. Mr. Sultan, of course, refused.
In 2000, the Massachusetts Governor’s Board of Pardons and Paroles met to consider a commutation of Gerald’s sentence. After nine months of investigation, the board, reputed to be the toughest in the country, voted 5-0, with one abstention, to commute his sentence. Still more newsworthy was an added statement, signed by a majority of the board, which pointed to the lack of evidence against the Amiraults, and the “extraordinary if not bizarre allegations” on which they had been convicted.
Editorials in every major and minor paper in the state applauded the Board’s findings. District Attorney Coakley was not idle either, and quickly set about organizing the parents and children in the case, bringing them to meetings with Acting Gov. Jane Swift, to persuade her to reject the board’s ruling. Ms. Coakley also worked the press, setting up a special interview so that the now adult accusers could tell reporters, once more, of the tortures they had suffered at the hands of the Amiraults, and of their panic at the prospect of Gerald going free.
On Feb. 20, 2002, six months after the Board of Pardons issued its findings, the governor denied Gerald’s commutation….
That Coakley would fight to keep innocent people behind bars is beyond despicable. That she was even put forward by the Massachusetts Democrats is unfortunate. Such a person does not even deserve a nomination. At this time, however, all reasonable people with any sense of justice should unite in denying Martha Coakley higher office.