Bernard Baran, cleared of child molestation charges, dead at 49

Bernard Baran Jr. sheds a tear after leaving the Berkshire County Superior Courthouse in 2009.

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The Trials of Bernard Baran Jr.

Bernard Baran Jr., who spent 21 years in prison on child molestation charges that were overturned in 2006, has died, according to friends and family members.

The Pittsfield native was 49 and living in Fitchburg with his partner of eight years, David Colarusso, at the time of his death.

"He had the kindest soul of anyone I met," Colarusso said. "He's going to be missed by all."

Baran, known to his friends and supporters as "Bee," died suddenly Monday night at home, according to his niece Crystal Squires. She said the cause of death is unknown, but a state medical examiner plans to conduct an autopsy.

Squires said a public memorial service for Baran, who was self-employed, will be held at a later date in Boston. Kelly Funeral Home in Lee is preparing an obituary as Baran still has family in the Berkshires, including his mother, Bertha Shaw, of Pittsfield.

"She wants people to know her son's death was a tragic loss of a beautiful life," Squires said of Shaw. "He spent more years in jail, than out."

Baran, who was gay, was convicted in 1985 of sexually abusing five children at the Early Childhood Development Center in Pittsfield, where he worked at the time. He was given three concurrent life sentences.

His conviction came amid a wave of nationwide hysteria involving child care sex abuse cases.

Baran had a legion of supporters who felt he was wrongly convicted, persecuted for his sexuality, and had a poor defense attorney.

In 2006, Baran's appeals attorney, John Swomley of Boston, convinced a judge to throw out the Berkshire Superior Court's verdict.

Superior Court Judge Francis R. Fecteau overturned Baran's convictions, concluding that his original lawyer, Leonard B. Conway of Westfield, was incompetent.

Central to Fecteau's conclusion was Conway's failure to discover and use videotapes of investigators' interviews with the alleged victims, some of whom said they had been molested by someone other than Baran, while others at times denied ever having been molested at all.

"It's a horrible injustice he lived such a short life ... with people still out there who did this to him living their lives," Squires said.

Fecteau's ruling meant Baran could be retried, but the Berkshire District Attorney's Office in 2009 decided against a new trial.

Seven years after he walked out of prison, Baran sought to have his record expunged, a request the state has refused to honor up to Baran's death, according to Bob Chatelle, one of Baran's supporters.

Chatelle was among the individuals and groups who fought for Baran's freedom, which included raising money for his appellate case.

He believes Baran's injustice will leave a lasting legacy.

"I hope we can learn from your sufferings and prevent other innocents from being persecuted as you were," Chatelle wrote on his blog.

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A timeline of events in the Bernard Baran Jr. case:

October 1984: Bernard Baran Jr. is arrested on charges that he molested children at the Early Childhood Development Center in Pittsfield.

January 1985: Baran is found guilty by a Superior Court jury of three counts of rape and five counts of indecent assault and battery. He is sentenced to three concurrent life prison terms.

March 1986: The Massachusetts Appeals Court upholds Baran's convictions. The Supreme Judicial Court refuses to review the decision.

June 2004: A new legal team files a motion for a new trial in Berkshire Superior Court. The case is moved to Worcester.

June 2005: Judge Francis R. Fecteau conducts hearings over five days on the motion for a new trial.

June 2006: Fecteau overturns Baran's convictions and orders a new trial. Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless appeals. Baran goes free on bond.

February 2008: The appeals court hears oral arguments in Capeless' appeal.

May 15, 2009: The appeals court upholds Fecteau's decision. Baran remains free.

June 9, 2009: Capeless announces that he will drop the case against Baran, ending the prosecution after 25 years.

Feb. 26, 2013: Baran's lawyer, John Swomley, unsuccessfully requests in Suffolk Superior Court that his record be expunged.

Sept. 1, 2014: Baran dies at his Fitchburg home.