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A Cheshire man’s youthful ‘tussle’ is forgiven. Officially. By the governor

Charlie Baker stands behind desk

Gov. Charlie Baker has granted Michael J. Biagini Jr.’s request for “executive clemency” in the form of a pardon. That action sets the stage for the Cheshire man to shed a criminal record that goes back half a century. 

CHESHIRE — The fight happened so long ago Michael J. Biagini Jr. doesn’t remember it clearly. When he sat this summer with members of the state Advisory Board on Pardons, Biagini said his memory is fuzzy on what happened at that gas station in North Adams.

It was around midnight on June 4, 1966, when he stopped at Jimmy Dean’s Atlantic Service Station on Curran Highway.

“Mr. Biagini recalls that he was involved in a ‘tussle’ over a young lady,” the board said in a report to Gov. Charlie Baker.

Biagini was 18 at the time. He’s 74 today — a grandfather and great-grandfather. Though more than half a century has passed since that night, Biagini’s conviction on an assault and battery charge remained on his record, along with an assault case in 1974 that resulted in a three-month sentence to the Berkshire County House of Correction.

This past week, Baker granted Biagini’s request for “executive clemency” in the form of a pardon, on a day when he offered legal forgiveness to six people, and commuted the sentence of a man convicted in two 1971 murders in Dorchester.

The pardons must be OK’d by the Governor’s Council.

“The charges … relate to decades-old offenses,” Baker said of Biagini and other people granted pardons. “Each individual has had clean records since these older charges and receiving a pardon will allow them to move forward in their lives. I urge the Governor’s Council to consider each of these cases carefully.”

Why he sought pardon

In his application for a pardon, filed in 2020, and in his interview with the Advisory Board on Pardons, Biagini said he wanted to clear his criminal records for a specific reason. Due to a law change, that record barred him from renewing a license to carry a firearm. He told officials he had held a firearms license for over 45 years, but had recently failed to win a new one, due to strengthened state firearms laws. He said he wanted to be able to hunt with his grandchildren.

A message left Tuesday with Biagini, seeking comment on his pardon, was not immediately returned.

To win a recommendation of clemency, under terms outlined by Baker in 2020, the board must make a series of findings. An applicant has to take responsibility for past criminal offenses. He or she must have “made exceptional strides in self-development and self-improvement” and contributed to society “through the military or public service, or through charitable work.”

On top of that, the rules say, someone like Biagini needs to show they’ve led “a responsible and productive life” and done right by their community.

On that front, Biagini was able to cite long civic support to Cheshire, as a water commissioner, volunteer firefighter and first responder, as well as his service with the National Guard from 1966 to 1972.

“He has demonstrated a compelling need and exceptional strides to warrant a pardon,” the board wrote in its report to the governor. All five members voted to support his application.

No one came forward to oppose Biagini’s pardon. Several Cheshire officials stood up in support, including Town Clerk Christine B. Emerson (“an honorable and trustworthy man,” she said). Cheshire’s police chief, Timothy K. Garner, wrote a letter vouching for Biagini. Another letter-writer, Bruce D. Shepley, called him “an exemplary example of a public servant” who is dedicated to his family and “sets the example daily in citizenship, stewardship, and responsibility.”

The board’s report, addressed to “your excellency,” starts by listing the convictions for which the applicant wanted to be pardoned.

Biagini clip_113471453.jpg

This article appeared in the June 28, 1966, edition of the North Adams Transcript. 

Along with the 1966 assault and battery in North Adams (which prompted a $25 fine), the file includes a 1965 charge of being a minor in possession of alcohol (another $25 fine) and, in 1974, when Biagini was 27, the assault and battery that resulted in a three-month jail term.

Yes, fines were smaller then. In early 1965, Biagini had been docked $5 for a “traffic control violation,” according to a news brief at the time.

The pardons board said that because of the age of the cases, reports on the incidents in Biagini’s application were not available.

A June 28, 1966, story in the North Adams Transcript captured Biagini’s appearance in district court on the incident at the 1519 Curran Highway gas station.

He was found guilty of assault and battery on Stephen MacDonald, 16. MacDonald said in court that Biagini got in his car and hit him in the mouth and head. Two young witnesses at the scene, Linda Cardimino, 17, and Arthur DeWaela, 18, backed up MacDonald’s version of what happened.

Biagini told a different story in court. He said MacDonald had called him over to his car and hit him in the chest. “Only then, Biagini said, did he strike MacDonald,” the Transcript story said.

Other actions

Last Friday, Baker announced Biagini’s pardon along with those for Gerald Amirault, Cheryl Amirault Lefave, Brian Morin, Camille Joseph Chaisson and Robert Busa.

Gerald Amirault, 68, and Cheryl Amirault Lefave, 65, brother and sister, were convicted in 1986 and 1987 in connection with allegations of child sexual abuse at the Fells Acres daycare center they operated in Malden.

Both served jail sentences and terms of parole but said they were innocent. Interrogation methods used in the case have been discredited.

“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 his 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.”

“As measured by the standard we require of our system of justice, Gerald Amirault and Cheryl Amirault Lefave ought to be pardoned,” Baker said.

Tom Reilly, the former attorney general, said he backs decisions prosecutors made at the time in the Fells Acres case, along with those by the judge and jury. But he conceded the pardons were warranted. “I believe the governor’s decision is a fitting end to a very troubled case,” Reilly said in a statement.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

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