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No Crueler Tyrannies

by Dorothy Rabinowitz

In 1742, Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, wrote, "There is no crueler tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of law and in the name of justice." Two hundred forty-three years later, in 1985, Dorothy Rabinowitz, a syndicated columnist and television commentator, encountered the case of a New Jersey day care worker named Kelly Michaels, accused of 280 counts of sexually abusing nursery school children -- and exposed the first of the prosecutorial abuses described in No Crueler Tyrannies. No Crueler Tyrannies recalls the hysteria that accompanied the child sex-abuse witch-hunts of the 1980s and 1990s: how a single anonymous phone call could bring to bear an army of recovered-memory therapists, venal and ambitious prosecutors, and hypocritical judges -- an army that jailed hundreds of innocent Americans. The overarching story of No Crueler Tyrannies is that of the Amirault family, who ran the Fells Acres day care center in Malden, Massachusetts: Violet Amirault, her daughter Cheryl, and her son Gerald, victims of perhaps the most biased prosecution since the Salem witch trials. Woven into the fabric of the Amirault tragedy -- an unfinished story, with Gerald Amirault still incarcerated for crimes that, Rabinowitz persuasively argues, not only did he not commit, but which never happened -- are other, equally alarming tales of prosecutorial terrors: the stories of Wenatchee, Washington, where the single-minded efforts of chief sex crimes investigator Robert Perez jailed dozens of his neighbors; Patrick Griffin, a respected physician whose life and reputation were destroyed by a false accusation of sexual molestation; John Carroll, a marina owner from Troy, New York, now serving ten to twenty years largely at the behest of the same expert witness used to wrongly jail Kelly Michaels fifteen years previously; and Grant Snowden, the North Miami policeman sentenced to five consecutive life terms after being prosecuted by then Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno...who spent eleven years killing rats in various Florida prisons before a new trial affirmed his innocence. No Crueler Tyrannies is at once a truly frightening and at the same time inspiring book, documenting how these citizens, who became targets of the justice system in which they had so much faith, came to comprehend that their lives could be destroyed, that they could be sent to prison for years -- even decades. No Crueler Tyrannies shows the complicity of the courts, their hypocrisy and indifference to the claims of justice, but also the courage of those willing to challenge the runaway prosecutors and the strength of those who have endured their depredations.

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