Guide Follow-Up Story
[Copyright 2000 by Jim D'Entremont. Anyone may link to this page without explicit permission. Requests to repost all or part of this article on electronic systems serving fighters for justice are encouraged. All repostings must retain this copyright notice in its entirety. Send permission requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Still in Jail
Early in 1985, after a kangaroo-court trial rife with violations of due process, 19-year-old Bernard Baran, a teacher’s aide at a Pittsfield, Massachusetts daycare center, was convicted of molesting five small children and sentenced to three concurrent life terms (not two, as The Guide previously reported). Insisting on his innocence but lacking resources for an appeal, Baran has languished in prison for 15 years. Now, following the publication of a feature article about Baran in The Guide’s December 1999 issue, the case is progressing toward justice.
That progress, however, has recently been impeded by a serious mishap. On March 19, Baran was injured while playing basketball at Bridgewater Treatment Center, the facility that has been his home for the past nine years. The injury was accidental, occurring when Baran rushed behind a larger man who, unaware of his presence, stepped rapidly backward and elbowed Baran sharply in the center of his face. When Baran crumpled to the floor, bleeding, the inmate who struck him burst into tears.
Rushed to nearby Brockton Hospital, Baran was treated for a life-threatening head injury. He temporarily lost motor control in the left-hand side of his body, and suffered speech impairment. A CAT scan showed bruising of the brain but no bleeding or fluid accumulation. An EKG has ruled out a stroke.
As The Guide goes to press, Baran has almost regained full mobility. His speech is slow but coherent. He continues to have problems with his left eye. “Whenever I lie down,” he says, “the room spins.” His condition, diagnosed as “post-concussion syndrome,” is being treated with steroids and other medications.
Meanwhile, attorneys are sifting through the facts to form a strategy. Newly discovered evidence discredits the flimsy physical evidence prosecutors presented at the original trial. One boy tested positive for gonorrhea, but the test used has since been shown to have a high rate of false positives. (Baran’s gonorrhea test was, in any case, negative.) Evidence has also emerged that suggests that the boy may have had sexual contact with one of his mother’s boyfriends. A tiny flaw in one girl’s hymen, cited as proof that she had “suffered severe medical damage,” is now known to be a common irregularity.
Circumstantial evidence amounted to little more than the prosecutor’s implication that a gay man working in child care must be like “a chocoholic in a candy factory.” The testimony of the children — coached and prodded by parents, therapists and police, requiring the now discredited use of “anatomically correct” dolls on the witness stand — was confused, contradictory, and conducted so that Baran could neither see nor adequately hear the proceedings.
Baran’s attorneys are also monitoring another, more highly publicized Massachusetts abuse case. On April 19, lawyers for Gerald Amirault — convicted along with his mother and sister in a notoriously politicized daycare case that also erupted in 1984 — asked Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci to grant him executive clemency. A commutation for Amirault, whose cause has gained widespread popular support, would greatly enhance Baran’s chances of obtaining freedom as well.
It helps that the press is awakening to the outrageousness of Baran’s predicament. While a prospective television interview has had to be postponed because of Baran’s injury, media attention continues to build. The Guide article reached a reader in Chelmsford, Mass. whose description of the case was published in the letters column of the January 12 Wall Street Journal. In the February 21 issue of The Nation, progressive journalist Katha Pollitt published a column on Baran noting that “for the first time in fifteen years, there’s a chance this shameful miscarriage of justice can be set right — if it is possible to speak of setting right a wrong that has coast a man his youth.”
In the March 18 edition of the Berkshire Eagle, Baran’s hometown newspaper, Samuel Sass devoted a portion of his column to Baran, citing Pollitt’s Nation piece and calling Baran’s predicament “a truly significant human rights case.”
After reading various accounts of the case, 152 donors contributed a total of $9,540 to Baran’s defense fund between December 1999 and April 2000. (Attorney Robert Rosenthal, a specialist in reversing wrongful abuse convictions, estimates that a successful bid to obtain justice for Baran will cost $100,000.) Dozens of others have written directly to Baran. His allies range from elderly nuns to young gay men. A majority are straight.
Inquiries and donations can be sent to The Bernard Baran Justice Committee, c/o Swomley & Wood, 83 Atlantic Avenue, Boston MA 02110. Expressions of support can be sent to Bernard Baran at 30 Administration Road, Bridgewater, MA 02324.