|Photo Courtesy FreeBaran.org|
Following Bernard Baran's Long Road to Justice
The Advocate Weekly- June 29, 2006
(Editor's note: In a departure this week from his usual explorations of eerie or unexpected phenomena, Advocate columnist Joe Durwin chose to write an opinion piece on Bernard Baran, whose controversial case has, to many, been a strange and inexplicable part of These Mysterious Hills -Glenn Drohan)
Last week, Superior Court Judge Francis R. Fecteau ordered a new trial for Bernard Baran, a Pittsfield man who was convicted on child- molestation charges more than 20 years ago, opining that his original trial "cannot be relied on as having produced a just result," and that a "substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice" exists. Based on more than two years' research on the disturbing specifics of this case, there is little question in my mind that said miscarriage of justice does exist, and that if anyone in the long and often convoluted history of American jurisprudence ever deserved a retrial, Bernard Baran does.
In the days following Fecteau's decision, much attention has been focused on the failings and shortcomings of Baran's defense attorney. Comparatively little consideration has been given to the seedy origins of the charges for which Baran was initially arrested and to the investigation that followed. This is an unfortunate oversight on the part of the local media, as this is where the real story is to be found. In 1984, Baran was 19 and employed by Pittsfield's Early Childhood Development Center. He was also openly gay - a point which seems to have enraged the parents of one of the boys in his care at ECDC. Early in the fall of 1984, Lisa Hanes [pseudonym] contacted the day care to demand that Bernard be terminated, stating that no homosexual should be put in a position of proximity to children. In a later deposition, Hanes described her views on homosexuality at that time: ".I had a feeling that if they're gay, they shouldn't be with kids. They shouldn't get married. They shouldn't be allowed out in public." ECDC rightly informed her that Bernard's sexual orientation was none of its business but that she was free to remove her son if she felt uncomfortable.
She did not do so.
Meanwhile, a climate of hysteria had been building across the country. For the past year, the nationally famous McMartin preschool "ritual abuse" trial had dragged on (as it would for years, though no convictions ever resulted and most analysts have dismissed the incident as hysteria). Closer to home, the arrest of day-care worker Gerald Amirault on eerily similar charges took place in Malden, in September 1984. About a month later, Hanes and her husband accused Baran of molesting their son Peter [pseudonym]. Some background on this first accuser's family and home environment is worth exploring. Both the boy's mother and stepfather admitted to being addicted to drugs, consuming a steady diet of opiates and barbiturates.
Both the stepfather, an ex-felon, and one of the mother's previous boyfriends had been treated at Berkshire Medical Center for allegedly self-inflicted stab wounds to the chest following domestic disputes. The boy often came to school sporting bruises and had several times been placed in foster care due to the climate of violence and rampant drug abuse at home. At one such foster home, according to a state Department of Social Services report, Peter stated (unprompted) that he had been sexually abused by one of his mother's prior boyfriends some time before the Baran trial. The DSS investigated and substantiated the claim, though for some incomprehensible reason waited (quite illegally) until AFTER Baran was convicted before notifying the district attorney's office.
The boy also tested positive for gonorrhea immediately prior to the accusations of abuse at ECDC, a major piece of evidence used in the prosecution against Baran - despite the fact that he himself tested negative, and that no record exists of his ever having been treated for the disease. Immediately following the first accusation, another came from the mother of a girl who also attended ECDC. This parent, a friend of Hanes, was a known prostitute with similar drug problems. Months later, the girl confided to a therapist that Baran had never molested her and that her mother had convinced her to lie "so that they could get a lot of money." She, with Hanes, later sued ECDC for millions, losing after their credibility was destroyed in an investigation by the day-care facility's insurance company. As with other evidence in favor of Baran's innocence, this received little or no attention from the Berkshire district attorney's office, then or now.
The investigation and prosecution that followed played out similarly to other, more famously acknowledged, day-care-abuse witch hunts. Nearly all of the 160 children attending ECDC were interrogated at length, though a few parents found the accusations so absurd that they refused to allow their children to participate. Then-common methods such as "child-abuse puppet shows" and suggestive questioning techniques were employed, eventually producing accusations from three additional children. These techniques have since been discredited by scientific research showing that such methods lead mainly to false testimony and the implantation of false memories in children, who are particularly susceptible to suggestion. Videotapes of these interrogations reveal a pattern of badgering and bullying to produce the desired responses, even when these responses were inconsistent and internally contradictory.
Meanwhile, prosecutor Daniel A. Ford made no real effort to obscure his clear distaste for homosexuality. Despite the fact that not one adult witness or shred of physical evidence was ever produced, that no other ECDC employee ever witnessed anything they considered suspicious, or that, given the nature of Baran's contact with the children there, many of the specific details of the allegations were physically impossible, the jury ultimately found Baran guilty. From the trial transcript, it would appear their decision was based more on the evidence withheld by the DA's office than the evidence it produced, in combination with the emotional arguments of Ford and the overall circus atmosphere of the trial created by the prosecution. Since then, at least one juror has denounced the trial as unfair, and three of the five accusers have since denied that Baran ever molested them. Over the years, a huge amount of opposition to the conviction has amassed, and through the efforts of Bob Chatelle, founder of the Bernard Baran Justice committee, a vast network of supporters have rallied around him. Meanwhile, virtually every similar conviction from the 1980s wave of day-care abuse scandals has been overturned.
All of which makes it hard to understand how present District Attorney David Capeless can be so adamantly against the move to grant Baran a new trial, one several recent decisions by Capeless that have provoked concern and consternation from some Berkshire County residents. It is the job of any commentator, when faced with an overwhelming preponderance of factual evidence on a particular conclusion, to acknowledge that conclusion rather than remain in a precarious fence-sitting position of merely providing a showcase for sound bites from both camps. With that in mind, I anxiously await the day when Bernard Baran receives the fair trial he should have had 22 years ago - the kind we were told as schoolchildren that all Americans are entitled to. As it stands, his continued imprisonment remains a huge black mark on our entire region and a serious strike against the very notion of reason, justice or decency in our community.