Gay Man Exonerated After 21 Years in Prison Tries to Clear Name
In 1985, 19-year-old Bernard Baran Jr. was convicted in one of the many daycare child molestation cases, like the McMartin Preschool case, that swept the nation in the 1980s, part of a national hysteria that was later proven to be mostly false accusations. Nineteen-year-old Bernard Baran was the first of those cases. An out gay man even then, Baran was convicted of molesting five children at the Early Childhood Development Center, the daycare where he worked in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
According to The North Adams Transcript, Baran insisted he was innocent but was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. His case, writes The Transcript, was kept alive by a growing number of supporters who were convinced that Baran, an openly gay man, was persecuted for his sexuality and his conviction was simply part of that hysteria surrounding allegations of child molestation at day care centers. His conviction was overturned in 2006, after a judge ruled his trial lawyer was incompetent, according to The Transcript, but the state has not wiped his case from the records.
But, at a hearing this week in a Massachusetts Superior Court, assistant attorney general David Hartnagel urged the courts not to expunge the records, saying that his criminal record can only be expunged if he receives a judgment in his favor against the state. The paper reports that Baran did receive a $400,000 settlement, but the state denied liability in the settlement.
Baran's lawyer, John Swomley, argued that there was "overwhelming evidence" that Baran had been innocent, that there "were no crimes committed at all," and that crucial evidence — including videotaped interviews in which children said that Baran never hurt them —that wasn't shown to jurors at Baran's trial.
The judge in Tuesday's case hasn't made a ruling yet, but Baran, now 47, said expunging his record would help him feel safer and would help him find a job.
"It's been 27 years since my original arrest and I'm still dealing with this situation," he told The Transcript. "I don't feel like the state has ever humanely let me out of their grasp."