Bernard Baran decision-time

Wednesday, June 03
After more than 20 years, the legal system could finally release its grip on Bernard A. Baran. Or, another chapter could be written in this long-running saga. We hope for the former, primarily because Mr. Baran has needlessly suffered enough, but also to close a dark chapter in Berkshire County's legal history.

The decision rests this week with Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless, who could challenge the decision made last month by an appeals court to uphold the overturning of Mr. Baran's conviction for child molestation. He could also pursue a new trial in what is now a quarter-century-old case.

After serving 21 years in jail, Mr. Baran, who was found guilty of molesting five young children at the Early Childhood Center in Pittsfield, was released in 2006 following a ruling by Superior Court Judge Francis R. Fecteau. A state appeals court upheld that ruling, and in doing so took a step past Judge Fecteau's decision that Mr. Baran was victimized by a poor defense. The court placed that poor defense in the context of a poor prosecution, raising the issue of prosecutorial misconduct without reaching a definitive conclusion.

The decisions made by Judge Fecteau and the court were well-reasoned and articulated, and it is difficult to imagine the state Supreme Judicial Court, which is the next step up the judicial ladder, ruling any differently. An appeal to that level will invite another investigation of the handling of that case, which is not one that flatters the Berkshire legal system.

That Mr. Baran and his attorney were denied access to taped interviews in which the alleged victims contradicted each other, as well as to police reports and other material that could have benefited Mr. Baran, is beyond dispute. Since-discredited interviewing techniques were employed amidst a climate of mid-'80s hysteria fueled by a similar higher profile case at the other end of the state. Mix in homophobia and inadequate judicial oversight and the result is a fatally and horrifically flawed case.

Bringing a new trial would mean getting the testimony of adults asked to recall events of their childhood 25 years ago that were cloudy when the first trial took place in 1985. We trust that the case would be better executed than its predecessor, but the fog of time would inevitably compromise it.

And to what purpose? Mr. Baran, who is gay, has spent 21 hard years behind bars. Even now, he is electrically monitored, and with the possibility of being sent back to jail still real, he is not entirely free either physically or psychologically. Time for all parties to move on.


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