Justice For Bernard

Jim Burroway

June 24th, 2006

“I don’t know how much longer I can hold on for. I have spent fifteen years of my life locked away for something I never did and after a while you start to lose all hope.” — Bernard F. Baran, Jr., March 3, 1999

Twenty years ago, Americans were alarmed by the shocking allegations of child sexual abuse in the McMartin preschool case near Los Angeles. Soon other cases followed — the Little Rascals day care center in Edenton, North Carolina, the Fells Acres day care center in Malden, Massachusetts — all these and more sent the country on a wild witch-hunt — literally, as stories of satanic ritual abuse and sacrifice were accepted with incredible gullibility by the press. Today, most (but not all) of these allegations have been debunked and the accused set free, but only after their lives were forever ruined.

But there is one case that is still with us today, one case of a terrible miscarriage of justice that cries out for attention.

Bernard Baran in 1985Bernard Baran’s case is remarkably similar to the other cases: A teenager working at a public pre-school in Pittsfield, Massachusetts was accused of molesting five 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old children. Experts were brought in and, using suggestive and leading interrogation techniques, extracted “testimony” from some very young and impressionable children. During the subsequent trial, evidence was withheld from the defense attorney while a general atmosphere of hysteria spread throughout the community and the state.

But two things are remarkably different about Bernard’s case, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that these two distinguishing marks appear together. First, where most of the other cases have been dismissed or overturned and the falsely accused were eventually allowed to go free, Bernard (who goes by the nickname, “Bee”) is still serving three life sentences. And second, Bernard was openly gay. Being a gay teenager is never easy, but few have carried a burden like Bernard’s — especially in a climate that assumes that all homosexuals are child-abusing perverts.

When one of the parents learned that Bernard was gay, she complained to the Early Childhood Development Center where Bernard worked, saying she didn’t want “a queer” working with her child. When school officials refused to fire Bernard, the child’s father called police on October 5, 1984, alleging that his son had been sexually abused by Bernard. In the hysterical frenzy that followed, four more accusations were made.

Bernard and his mother were from a working-class background and they didn’t know how to go about finding a proper lawyer. They had very little money for a defense attorney, so Bernard’s original lawyer, who was inexperienced and took the case for only $500, barely reviewed the evidence. During the trial there were no eyewitnesses, forensic evidence was practically nonexistent, and the children’s testimony was elicited only after extremely heavy prompting and leading questions by the prosecution. The first child’s parents who started it all were heavy drug users, and the father was known to be exceptionally abusive.

On top of all that, with Bernard being openly gay, he was an extremely easy target. The district attorney said in his closing arguments that being gay was the same as being a child molester, and he compared Bernard to “a chocoholic in a candy store.” After only one day of defense testimony and three-and-a-half hours of jury deliberation, nineteen-year-old Bernard Baran was convicted and given three life sentences on January 30, 1985. It was over as quickly as that.

Bernard has been in prison for the past twenty years. I don’t have to tell you what it’s like to be gay and a convicted child molester in a maximum security prison.

His case languished for years, but there was a small cadre of friends and family who refused to give up. In 1999 lawyer John Swomley took the case with the sponsorship of the National Center for Reason and Justice. Since there was little documentation available, he had to rebuild the case from scratch. He finally was able to file an appeal in June 2004. A year later, Worcester Superior Court Judge Francis R. Fecteau agreed to take the motion under advisement. And another year after that, the judge finally ordered a new trial last Tuesday, and set Bernard’s bail at $50,000.

Right now, Bernard’s supporters are working on raising the bail money. But even if he is released, he will have to wear a GPS tracker wherever he goes, he will be required to check in with a parole officer once a week, and he will not be premitted to leave the state of Massachusetts. Because, after all, the state of Massachusetts still considers him a dangerous sex offender.

Bernard Baran todayThe state promises to appeal the judge’s decision. If it stands, then prosecutors may decide to hold a new trial or drop the case. So far, they indicate that they will press forward with the case. Bernard is not out of the woods yet, so right now he needs your support. His defense fund has been exhausted and desperately needs your donations. And you can spread the word about this important opportunity to correct a terrible miscarriage of justice.

For more information about Bernard’s case:

For too long, gay men have carried the burden of being automatically associated with child molesters. A few have paid a terrible price for this burden. Bernard’s fight is ours as well.

See also:
Bernard Baran Released From Prison

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