Freedom for Bernard Baran

[Copyright 2006 John Lauritsen. This article was first published in Out In Jersey, August/September 2006.]

Freedom for Bernard Baran

by John Lauritsen

Boston, Massachusetts. On Friday, 30 June 2006, Bernard
Baran was released from prison. For almost 22 years — more than
half of his entire life — he had been incarcerated in maximum
security prisons and then the Bridgewater Treatment Facility,
having been convicted in 1985 of sex abuse offenses. These were
offenses that never happened, and could not possibly have
happened. In a detailed and rigorously argued 79-page decision,
Superior Court Judge Francis R. Fecteau ordered a new trial for
Baran and vacated all convictions and sentences against him. In
effect this means that Baran once again has the presumption of

Bernard Baran was the first person convicted in an epidemic
of day-care sex abuse cases in the mid 1980s. In this period of
sexual hysteria, over-zealous and unscrupulous prosecutors, aided
and abetted by therapist quacks, led juries to convict innocent
people of fantastic sex abuse offenses. Not only did the media
fail to challenge stories of satanic rituals, dragons, hidden
underground tunnels, murders of large animals, and so on — such
newspapers as the New York Times and the Boston Globe contributed
to the feeding frenzy.

Since then, virtually all of these falsely accused people
have been released and exonerated. Baran alone remained in
prison, in large part because he is openly gay — a factor which
played an important part in his conviction. In Baran’s case, the
original accusation was made by a female drug addict and her live-
in boyfriend, who were upset that their “son” was being taught by
a “queer”. Several years later the boy boasted that his mother
had made the accusation in order to get money — which she did,
though not very much, as lawyers for the day-care center’s
insurance company did their own investigation, and found there was
no basis to the charges.

Judge Fecteau’s decision was based primarily on his finding
that Baran did not receive adequate counsel. Baran’s lawyer had
no experience in criminal cases, and his fee, a mere $500, was
inadequate to pay fees for experts or to do any independent

But even more important was gross prosecutorial misconduct
on the part of the District Attorney, who withheld exculpatory
evidence from the defense, fabricated interview tapes, and
exhibited inflammatory bias against gay men. For example, in his
closing speech to the jury, the DA said that for a homosexual like
Baran to be in a day-care center was like having “a chocoholic in
a candy store”. The DA also referred to Baran’s lover as a “fag”.
In fact, Baran has never had the slightest erotic interest in
children. At the time of his arrest he was in a loving
relationship with a man a few years older than himself — and his
preference has always been for older men.

On 30 June 2006 a press conference was held at the offices
of Baran’s attorney, John Swomley, who said that in America
justice is for those who can pay for it. Innocent people really
do go to prison. Some of these have been exonerated through DNA
evidence — but in a case like Baran’s, DNA is irrelevant, since
no crimes ever happened in the first place. Assisting lawyer
Harvey Silvergate said that the Salem witch trials provided a
close analogy to the day-care sex abuse cases of the 1980s. For
four years Baran’s lawyers, armed with several court orders, had
requested unedited tapes of the interviews with the children. The
District Attorney, who had been part of the original prosecution,
repeatedly told them the tapes could not be found. Then he
dropped dead. The new DA found the unedited tapes in a few weeks,
and according to Silvergate, they are “absolute dynamite”. Time
and again the children deny that Baran did anything at all to
them. One child repeatedly demands to know when he will get the
“prize” he had been promised. The tapes show interviewers not
merely suggesting what the children should say, but virtually
ordering them to say it. In some tapes the parents intervene, to
prompt their children to make the accusations they had been
coached to make.

One of the reporters at the press conference asked Baran
whether he felt bitter about what had been done to him. He
replied that he has already lost half of his life, and unless he
lets go of his bitterness, he will lose what is left. He intends
to live a day at a time. Much of the credit for freeing Baran
should go to Robert Chatelle, who discovered the case in the
1990s, researched it, and concluded that a terrible miscarriage of
justice had taken place.

Judge Fecteau’s Decision: