Posts Tagged As: Bernard Baran

Wrongfully Convicted During Child Sexual Abuse Hysteria, Bee Baran Is Finally at Peace

Jim Burroway

September 3rd, 2014

20090610_073615_bernard_baran[1]Bernard Baran died on Monday night. Known as “Bee” to his friends, he died suddenly at his home wile talking with his partner, David, and his niece, Crystal. He was forty-nine years old. The cause of death is unknown at this time. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Some thirty five years ago, Americans were riveted by the shocking allegations of child sexual abuse in the McMartin pre-school case near Los Angeles. The bizarre allegations included satanic rituals and secret tunnels under the school. Seven employees and the owners were charged with 321 counts of child abuse involving 48 children. After seven years of hysteria, charges were finally dropped against five, and Peggy McMartin Buckey and Ray Buckey were finally acquitted after a three-year-long trial and nine weeks of jury deliberation. That hysteria led to other allegations — the Little Rascals day care center in Edenton, North Carolina, the Fells Acres day care center in Malden, Massachusetts, and the Early Childhood Development Center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

The latter case is where Bee Baran came in. Openly gay since he came out in high school, Bee began working as a teacher’s aide in 1983. Soon after the Fells Acres case made national news, the parents of a boy in Baran’s class complained to the board of directors of ECDC, saying they “didn’t want no homo” working with their four-year-old son, who had been placed at ECDC by social workers due to the child’s abusive home environment. The parents, who were drug addicts and police informants with the Pittsfield Police’s drug control unit, complained to police, charging that Baran had molested their child that day — a day which was actually three days after they removed their child from day care.

Bee Baran, at the time of his arrest

Bee Baran, at the time of his arrest

The panic quickly spread. Another mother, herself a survivor of child sexual abuse, interrogated her daughter about Baran and elicited an accusation. Other parents panicked and the hysteria spread. Baran, then just nineteen years old, was arrested. Investigators brought in so-called “experts” who, using suggestive and leading interrogation techniques, , extracted preciselty the kind of testimony from other very young and impressionable children they were looking for. During the subsequent trial, evidence was withheld from the defense attorney while a general atmosphere of hysteria spread throughout the community and the state.

Baran and his mother were from a working-class background and had very little money for a defense attorney. They found an inexperienced lawyer who took the case for only $500. He barely reviewed the evidence or mounted much of a defense. At trial, there were no eyewitnesses, the forensic evidence was practically nonexistent, and the children’s testimony came only after extremely heavy prompting and leading questions by the prosecution.

Baran’s case differed from the other nationally-known cases in two key ways. First, unlike the other defendants, he was openly gay in a conservative community where many unquestionably assumed that gay people were child molesters. The district attorney played on those assumptions in his closing arguments, comparing Bernard to “a chocoholic in a candy store.” And secondly, unlike most of the other defendants who were eventually acquitted or saw their cases dismissed, Baran was found guilty and given three life sentences on January 30, 1985.

Baran spent the next twenty-one years in prison, caught in a terrible catch-22. If he had accepted a plea deal, he would have been a free man after just a few years. If, after conviction, he had stopped denying that he had committed the crimes he had been charged with, he may have been able to win parole. If he had said that he was a pedophile, he could have been placed in a more protective environment at the minimum security Bridgewater Treatment Center instead of the maximum security facility at Walpole State Prison. As a convicted pedophile, Baran was marked for extra abuse by other prisoners:

After Walpole, Baran was shuffled through five medium-security state prisons to ensure his safety, but the abuse did not let up. At Concord, he was beaten several times, and fellow inmates stole most of his property. At the now closed Southeastern Correctional Center, three inmates beat and gang-raped him.

The beatings intensified at Norfolk, where Baran says his eye was split open in one incident. In another, a fellow inmate slammed a metal tray on his head in the cafeteria, giving him a concussion. Baran was hospitalized both times. Despite the DOC’s standard investigations into the savage beatings, he never identified the perpetrators.

“If you snitch, you’re gonna get killed,” Baran says. “At least if you don’t tell, you get a little respect for that.” It was also at Norfolk that he twice attempted suicide.

Baran was eventually sent to Bridgewater on a bizarre technicality: because he refused to admit his crime, he was labeled a “sexually dangerous person” and eligible for treatment.

Baran is finally released from prison in 2006.

Baran is finally released from prison in 2006.

In 2002, a new legal team took Baran’s case and began submitting motions for a new trial. As part of their briefs, they identified over 300 flaws from the original trial, including prosecutorial misconduct, suggestive and leading interviewing techniques, and ineffective counsel. The state retaliated by trying to get Baran transferred out of the relative safety of Bridgewater and back into the general population, but the transfer board refused to go along. In 2006, a court finally set aside his 1984 conviction, ordered Baran released from prison and granted a new trial. The Berkshire County District Attorney appealed the decision, but the Massachusetts Appeals Courtaffirmed the lower court’s ruling in 2009. In 2010, Baran’s lawyers began suing previous attorneys for negligence and the state for prosecutorial misconduct. The state settled for $400,000 but continued to oppose moves to expunge Baran’s record. Baran and his partner bought a home in Fitchburg with the settlement money, but with his wrongful conviction still appearing on his criminal record, he continued to have trouble finding work.

You can find a full timeline of Bee Baran’s case here.

Bernard Baran Released From Prison

Jim Burroway

July 1st, 2006

Bernard Baran and his mother on his release from prisonBernard Baran, at age nineteen, was one of the first to be convicted of child sexual abuse in a wave of convictions during the day-care hysteria of the 1980’s. He was released on bail Friday after twenty-one years in prison. His conviction was overturned and he was granted a new trial earlier last week. While free, Bernard will be tracked by GPS, is not allowed to leave the state, and is prohibited unsupervised contact with anyone under the age of sixteen.

While he’s free for now, he could be returned within months. Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless is appealing the ruling that overturned Bernard’s conviction, and vows to go forward with a new trial should the appeal be upheld. Bernard’s attorney, on the other hand, is confident:

Baran’s trial was one of several prosecutions surrounding sexual abuse at day-care centers. Since that time, many of the methods used to build those cases have been discredited and the convictions overturned.

Harvey Silverglate, a member of Baran’s defense team, said the country was gripped in a “national sex panic” in the 1980s that led to dozens of inappropriate convictions. As an openly gay man who worked with children, Baran was a likely target. Absent the hysteria, Silverglate said, Baran would never have been convicted.

“If there is a new trial, you will see the curtain pulled back on how these cases happened in the 1980s. The curtain will be pulled back as to why this man spent 20 of his best years in prison for a crime that never happened,” Silverglate said. “I suspect the district attorney will not really want to retry this case.”

See also:
Justice For Bernard

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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