In 1985, at the age of 19, Bernard Baran was given concurrent life terms for three counts of child rape and five counts of indecent assault and battery on a child. The alleged victims were children who attended the day care program where he had been an assistant for three years. The high profile Fells Acre Day School sexual molestation cases were dominating national news at the time. In 1986 the Appeals Court affirmed his conviction.
Baran was openly gay. Following accusations of molestation against him by one family, school authorities and parents interrogated other children, eliciting four more accusations. Baran’s trial attorney was inexperienced in criminal law. At the trial, highly edited and inculpatory videotapes of interviews with the children were shown to the jury, while the unedited, more exculpatory tapes were neither requested by nor disclosed to the defense. Also, the prosecution suppressed one child’s pretrial recantation. The investigators’ interrogation techniques were later found to be suggestive. The trial court allowed the prosecutor to manipulate children’s testimony and appeal to the jury’s homophobia. Also, using homophobic language, he strongly urged the jury to return a guilty verdict.
In prison, Baran was raped and physically assaulted 30-40 times, causing serious eye injuries and several broken bones. Over time, a substantial group of Baran supporters organized around getting him a new trial. In 2006, the National Center for Reason in Justice engaged attorney John Swomley to pursue a new trial. The supposedly “lost” original videotapes were “discovered” by a new District Attorney shortly after the death of the original District Attorney in the case. In a 2006 Motion for a New Trial, the Superior Court judge ruled that “… the cumulative weight of these errors leaves us with an overriding ‘uncertainty that the defendant’s guilt has been fairly adjudicated’”. (Commonwealth v. Azar, 435 Mass. 675 (2002)). The Court reversed Baran’s conviction and ordered a new trial. Subsequently, the District Attorney dropped all charges against Baran and his case was dismissed. As of 2012, he continues to seek compensation for his wrongful conviction from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.