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The Bernard Baran indictment appears to have many factors in common with dozens of ritual abuse cases which surfaced during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Bernard is a homosexual. That has proven to be a tremendous personal liability, because of the high level of homophobia in American society. On 1983-AUG-1, Bernard Baran was hired as a teacher's aide by the West Side Early Childhood Development Center (ECDC) in Pittsfield, MA.  Pittsfield is located near the extreme western border of Massachusetts, very close to the state of New York.

The uncle of one of Baran's students complained to the ECDC that he did not want a homosexual teaching his nephew. Shortly after this complaint, he and his sister-in-law called police and said that the boy had accused Baran of molesting him.

On 1984-OCT-6, Baran was charged with sexually assaulting two three-year-old children at ECDC. The number of charges reached nine after most of the 160 children at the ECDC were interviewed. Baran was 19 years of age at the time. On 1985-JAN-30, he received a sentenced of 3 concurrent life terms. Because of his age and slight build, he was easy pray for other inmates. "During his first four years, he was raped and physically assaulted 30-40 times. He has suffered serious eye injuries and many broken bones. He now fortunately resides in the relative safety of  the Bridgewater Treatment Center." 1

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The culture of Massachusetts circa 1984:

A number of factors contributed to the conviction of Baran and of other adults in the state accused of mass abuse of children:

bullet Other pre-school/day-care panics: The people of Massachusetts were quite familiar with multi-victim multi offender (MVMO) sexual abuse cases involving very young children. The following two cases were often covered in the news at the time of Baran's arrest and trial:
bullet Fells Acre Day Care Center of Malden MA was similar to the ECDE, but was located at the eastern part of the state. Gerald Amirault of Fells Acre had been arrested only a month before Bernie, and charged with many dozens of counts of unimaginatively strange sexual and physical abuse of children.
bullet Another high-profile case was starting at the same time, at the McMartin preschool in Manhattan Beach, CA. The first accusations involving McMartin staff started on 1985-AUG-12, less than two weeks after Baran was arrested.
bullet The Satanic Ritual Abuse scare: The book "Michelle Remembers" was published in 1980. Advertised as a documentary on Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA), the book is really a work of fantasy, largely based on exaggerated religious rituals from West African Aboriginal religions. A large part of the population began to believe that underground Satanic cults were sexually abusing children throughout North America in pre-schools, day-care centers, churches, and elsewhere. There were estimates that 50 to 60 thousand infants and young American children were being murdered annually in ritual sacrifices. These beliefs were promoted by law enforcement, feminists, religious conservatives, and others. By the time that Baran was arrested, the "Satanic Panic" had become well established. It has since largely faded from the scene, after over twenty years of investigations turned up no hard evidence that SRA exists.
bullet Homophobia: Prior to the pioneering work by Dr. Evelyn Hooker in the early 1950s, the only available scientific data about homosexuals had involved prison inmates and psychiatric patients. Her report: "The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual." showed that "homosexuals were not inherently abnormal and that there was no difference between homosexual and heterosexual men in terms of pathology." But it took decades for her findings to filter down to the public. Prior to 1969, most gays and lesbians were deeply in the closet. The public knew little about sexual orientation. The American Psychiatric Association still considered a homosexual orientation to be a mental disorder. The 1969 "Stonewall uprising" in which gays fought police harassment at New York City's Stonewall Inn, jump-started the gay rights movement. But by 1984, the movement was in its infancy. Homophobia was still pervasive.
bullet Child interview techniques: In the early 1980s, most police, social workers, and child psychologists believed that young children were very reluctant to disclose sexual abuse. The standard interview techniques involved repeated, direct questioning which was continued until the child disclosed abuse. Rewards were often used to encourage the children to reveal "the truth." Anatomically correct dolls were used during the interviews. All of these beliefs have since been discredited, because they are known to result in false disclosures of sexual abuse that never happened. These "memories" later become implanted in the children's minds. The children have since become young adults. Many are probably deeply disturbed by their "memories," and will remain so for the rest of their lives.

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The trial and conviction:

There were only two pieces of hard evidence against Baran. Both were probably very effective at convincing the jury of his guilt. However, both are now known to be essentially meaningless:

  1. One of the alleged victims, a boy, tested positive for gonorrhea of the throat. 3 Unfortunately, the lab test that was used in the early 1980's days regularly gave positive results for a number of bacteria, in addition to gonorrhea, that are commonly found in children's throats. "According to a 1988 US Center for Disease Control report, by W. Whittington et al, in more than a third of laboratory samples of children indicating positive for gonorrhea, the actual organism turned out to be something else." 1 Even if the boy actually had gonorrhea, he may have caught it from someone other than Baran. The boy had been placed in many foster homes. He had made a spontaneous disclosure of sexual abuse to one of his foster mothers. He accused one of the mother's boyfriends as the perpetrator. The Department of Social Services (DSS) investigated and determined that the boy's accusation was substantiated. But they allegedly violated Massachusetts law by waited until after Baran was convicted before notifying the DA's office of their findings.
  2. A medical exam on another alleged victim, a girl, showed that she had a 1 to 2 mm (1/25th to 1/12th of an inch) tear on her hymen. This was believed at the time of the trial to be evidence of abuse. This conclusion was based on earlier studies of young girls who were known to have been sexually abused. Unfortunately, it was only in 1988 (years after Baran's trial) that Dr. John McCann of the University of California's School of Medicine published a four-year study that found that such irregularities occur in 50 to 60% of non-abused girls. In addition, the girl might have caused the tear herself. She had been observed inserting objects into her vagina.

The only other evidence against Baran was the testimony of the children. Unfortunately, this is linked to the interview techniques used by the DA's office, which were "suggestive and coercive." 1 It is known that anatomically correct dolls and puppet shows were used. These are known to be suggestive techniques that can easily create false disclosures of events that never happened.

There are some indications that point to Baran's innocence:

bullet Baran tested negative for gonorrhea. An intensive study turned up no indication that he had ever been treated for the disease.
bullet None of the school staff observed Baran engaged in any anything suspicious behavior with the children.
bullet He has had sexual experiences with other adults. This means that he is less likely to be a pedophile.
bullet He had never been in trouble with the law before this trial.
bullet One of the girls who testified against him told her therapist after the trial that no abuse actually took place. She said that her mother urged her to lie so that she could sue the ECDC for lots of money.
bullet The girl with the tear on her hymen claimed that a teacher watched while Baran sexually abused her. That seems highly improbable. None of the teachers recalled such an incident.

Baran remained in jail for decades. He has spent most of his life incarcerated.

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Baran's conviction overturned:

Baran unsuccessfully appealed his conviction in 1995. However, due largely to the efforts of the National Center for Reason and Justice (NCRJ), Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Francis R. Fecteau overturned his conviction. The judge ruled on 2006-JUN-20 that Baran's original attorney had provided incompetent counsel.  After watching videotapes of the the child interviews, Judge Fecteau concluded that Baran's attorney should have watched the tapes and used them to question the children's credibility. 9 The tapes allegedly show children being asked leading questions -- a technique almost guaranteed to result in false disclosures. They appear to have told inconsistent stories, sometimes implicating Baran, some exonerating Baran, and sometimes implicating someone else.

Berkshire County District Attorney David Capeless has promised to appeal Judge Fecteauís ruling. If that appeal fails, he has said that he will retry Baran. After having spent almost 22 years in prison -- more than half his life -- he was released on a $50,000 bond on 2006-JUN-30. He must wear an electronic monitoring bracelet and not have any unsupervised contact with children under 16 years-of-age.

Bob Chatelle, representative for NCRJ, said:

"Baran was imprisoned based on testimony from children subjected to leading, coercive questions from police and social workers already convinced of his guilt. He is innocent of all charges. Finally he may get a fair trial."

According to the NCRJ:

"Judge Francis Fecteauís 79-page opinion is a devastating summary of everything wrong with these prosecutions Ė the coaching of the children, putting words in their mouths, refusal to hear their denials that any abuse took place, the careful editing of videotapes to keep the jury from seeing such denials, the misinterpretation of ordinary childhood problems as signs of sexual abuse, the blaming of family problems on day care workers, the suppression of exculpatory evidence by prosecutors."

John Swomley, Baranís chief counsel, said:

"We will defend Mr. Baranís innocence in whatever forum necessary. If D.A. Capeless intends a new trial we will be ready. As for the appeal, Iíd like to think the hard work has already been done. The plain truth that he did not get a fair trial has now been laid out for all to see. Iím not naÔve, but I have to believe it would be pretty difficult for any appellate judge to read this record and conclude there was a fair trial."

One of the alleged victims is angry to see Baran go free. He said:

"Now he can go out and do whatever he wants, eat whatever he wants, go out
and have fun again. That's not right. It's got me depressed like crazy."

Harvey Silverglate, Baranís co-counsel said:

"Judge Fecteau, whether he meant to or not, has aimed a dagger at the heart of all of these phony prosecutions." 4

Later, Silverglate wrote a letter to the editor of the Berkshire Eagle:

"There is little to say at this point in response to those claimed 'victims' of childhood sexual assault in the Bernard Baran case who continue to believe, even into their adulthood, the tales of abuse that were driven into their young, impressionable minds decades ago in the ghastly brainwashing sessions that at long last have been made part of the official court record of the case. Mr. Baran was granted a new trial after the videotapes, having remained hidden while Mr. Baran spent two decades in prison for a crime that never even took place, were finally located and presented to the court."

"Superior Court Judge Francis Fecteau, who viewed the videotapes, heard several days of live testimony, reviewed many volumes of trial evidence and testimony, and spent an entire year studying this trial and writing an exhaustive 79-page opinion, has explained to any rational, reasonable person willing to listen with an open mind, precisely how not only the jurors were fooled into believing that Mr. Baran abused these young children, but how the children themselves were brainwashed into believing this fantasy. When the videotapes and other evidence showing how this false testimony was created are eventually made available to the public -- which we hope will happen soon -- there should not be a fair and rational person left who has the slightest doubt in Baran's innocence. Hopefully the victims, too, will recognize that they were indeed victimized -- but not by Mr. Baran. Many lives were wrecked by the now-discredited investigatory and prosecutorial techniques used in this and similar cases nationwide that marked the era of the 1980s sex panic so eloquently described in Judge Fecteau's opinion." 6

Barnard Baran (Bee) issued the following message upon his release on 2006-JUN-30:

"I'm not really sure what to say to everyone but FREEDOM has come to me after 21 years. Right now things feel wonderfully weird.  As I was pulling into the court room I got to see all my family standing outside waiting for me. It was such a heart warming experience.  The most rewarding moment was seeing my mother's face when I was released. I can remember all the pain in her face the day I was taken away from my family and the pain on her face has haunted me for 21 years. I lived & fought for this day to see her tears of joy. When we embraced I didn't want to let her go.  My whole family is with me now and it feels so wonderful.  I also want to thank all of you for standing by me & supporting me.  Every one of you played a big role in getting me to this point.  I haven't eaten all day so I'm going to close for now.  I will write again when things slow down just a little bit. 

The Baran case has become famous in Massachusetts. A description of the events in the case was featured in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly for 2006-AUG-08. 7

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Gag order:

Berkshire County District Attorney David Capeless has applied to the court for a gag order that would prevent Baran's defense team from talking about the case in public. He fears that the defense lawyers' statements which reveal the major miscarriages of justice involved in Baran's initial trial "unfairly taints the jury pool."

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The homosexual factor:

Many homophobic information sources project the belief that a large percentage of homosexuals are child molesters. Many gay-positive sources maintain that homosexual adults are not any more likely to sexually molest children than are heterosexuals. Both are wrong. In reality:

bullet Only a very small percentage of homosexual adults abuse persons under the age of 18.
bullet The vast majority of pedophiles are heterosexual or asexual.
bullet The percentage of molesters is somewhat higher for homosexual than for heterosexual adults.
bullet Those homosexuals who target non-adults typically choose post-pubertal youth.

With so much misinformation out there, it is to be expected that some gay-positive groups will be reluctant to support a fellow homosexual accused of molesting children, even if it is obvious that the defendant is innocent. This is what happened to Baran.

His case was discussed only by a very few gay news sources, including The Guide (formerly a Boston publication, but now based in Toronto, Canada) and Newsweekly. Both covered the Baran case during the original trial and now. John Lauritsen also published an article in the 2006-AUG/SEP issue of Out in Jersey . Lauritsen wrote, in part:

"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. 8

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Our opinion:

In all probability, he is innocent. In fact, the criminal acts for which he was charged probably never happened. However, the children (now in their twenties) probably retain "memories" of the abuse that were implanted in their minds as a result of improper interview techniques.

Baran's new trial is liable to be a very short affair, because there does not appear to be any evidence to either prove Baran's guilt or prove that abuse actually took place. The lab tests are meaningless. The children's testimony was clearly the result of improper interview techniques. Now in their mid 20s, their memories are of events that never happened.

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  1. Bob Chatelle, "Help us free Bernard Baran," at: This website contains a massive amount of information on the case.
  2. Bob Chatelle, "The Bernard Baran Chronology," at:
  3. "Bernie Baran, of Pittsfield, MA...," Witchhunt Information Page, at:
  4. National Center for Reason and Justice news release, 2006-JUN-30.
  5. Jack Dew, "Baran's release to come today," The Berkshire Eagle, 2006-JUN-30.
  6. Harvey Silverglate, "Victims, but not of Baran," The Berkshire Eagle, 2006-JUL-12.
  7. Noah Schaffer, "The Bernard Baran Saga. Two decades later, the convicted child molester's legal battle continues," Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, 2006-AUG-08, at: This is a temporary listing.
  8. John Lauritsen, "Freedom for Bernard Baran," Out in Jersey, 2006-AUG/SEP. Online at:
  9. Judge Francis R.Fecteau, "Memorandum of decision and order on Defendant's motion for a new trial," 2006-JUN-21, at:

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Media reports and web sites:

bullet "Help us free Bernard Baran!," at:
bullet Debbie Nathan, " Inside the 'Satan Scare' industry: The Devil makes them do it. While nation's cops chase demons, taxpayers get burned," 2003?, at:
bullet Michael Bronski & Catherine Tumber, "Free at last." An interview with Barnard Baran, The Phoenix Newsletter, 2006-JUL-12, at:

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Copyright © 2000 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JUL-10
Latest update: 2006-AUG-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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