Exonerated in June, 2009
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 of a child. The alleged victims were children who attended the day care program where he had been an assistant for three years. Following accusations of molestation against him by one family, school authorities and parents interrogated other children, eliciting four more accusations. 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.
At the time Baran was openly gay, and the prejudice associated with this may have contributed to his conviction. 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, and the trial court allowed the prosecutor to appeal to the jury’s homophobia.
Over time, a substantial group of Baran supporters organized around getting him 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 2006, the court reversed Baran’s conviction and ordered a new trial. Subsequently, in 2009 the District Attorney dropped all charges against Baran and his case was dismissed. Baran later filed a lawsuit and the state settled the case for $400,000. In September of 2014, just five years after his exoneration, Bernard passed away.