Judge Frees Convicted Child Abuser

By ROBIN ESTRIN
October 21, 1999

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) - One emotional chapter of the 15-year Fells Acres child abuse case has ended with a judge ruling that Cheryl Amirault LeFave does not have to return to prison. Her conviction stands on child-abuse charges from one of the most lurid mass child-molestation cases of the 1980s, but Thursday's decision by Judge Paul Chernoff means she finally is free of the specter of court. 

``I feel as if it's the beginning of my life all over again,'' Ms. LeFave, 41, said in an interview at her lawyer's office. ``But I'm still an innocent woman convicted of a crime. There are still some corrections to be made. I'm not the person they claimed me to be.'' 

Ms. LeFave already had served eight years of an eight- to 20-year sentence. Chernoff allowed the time served to stand after prosecutors did not oppose a motion to reduce her sentence. Ms. LeFave had been freed in 1995 when a judge overturned the convictions of her and her late mother, Violet Amirault. In August, Ms. LeFave's conviction was reinstated by the state's highest court. 

The two women along with Ms. LeFave's brother, Gerald Amirault, were convicted of sexually assaulting young children at their day care center in Malden, the Fells Acres Day School. The Amiraults have insisted they are innocent. They say they are the victims of a sex abuse hysteria that swept the country in the 1980s, and that prosecutors relied on the questionable testimony of child witnesses. 

In agreeing to the sentence reduction, prosecutor Lynn Rooney said Ms. LeFave cannot contact the victims or their families, can have no unsupervised contact with children, and that she must agree not to profit as a result of her crimes. 

Ms. LeFave also agreed to two other, unenforceable provisions termed a ``gentlemen's agreement'' by District Attorney Martha Coakley - she cannot pursue any further legal appeals of her case, and she cannot speak before television cameras. 

Violet Amirault died two years ago and Gerald Amirault is still in prison, having lost his appeal requests. He is serving a 30- to 40-year sentence. Authorities said there were about 40 victims between the ages of 2 and 4. 

Coakley has long maintained that the children told the truth when they described being tied to trees, sexually penetrated with knives and tortured by a ``bad clown'' in a ``secret room.'' No corroborating physical evidence and no testimony from a teacher or visitor at the school supported the allegations. 

Other high-profile abuse cases that surfaced in the 1980s and '90s have fallen apart, including the McMartin Preschool case in California, the Little Rascals case in North Carolina and the Margaret Kelly Michaels case in New Jersey. 
 
 

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