Like Amirault, Baran has always maintained his innocence. Now, in his last legal bid for freedom, a team of lawyers is moving for a new trial. Indeed, 19 years after Baran’s conviction, significant doubts remain about his guilt. Evidence that may have been vital to Baran’s defense was never provided to his attorney at trial. Techniques used to interview the children he was accused of abusing have been repudiated in similar abuse cases. And at least two of those children, including the boy who first incited the case against Baran, have since made statements that cloud their accusations.
Life in Western Massachusetts
Pittsfield, nestled in the Berkshire Mountains near the New York State border, is home to about 50,000 people. The blue-collar burg, 136 miles from Boston, boasts a General Electric plastics plant and a farm team for the Houston Astros. Yet the city also has a provincial New England air about it; Norman Rockwell painted his portraits of Americana for the Saturday Evening Post in nearby Lenox.
Bernard Baran spent his youth in this close-knit community, and most of his family still call it home. His parents never married and his father, Bernard Baran Sr., left when his son was three. But he was not bereft of care. His mother, Bertha Shaw, worked two jobs in order to support the family — Baran and his older siblings, Santo and Sharon.
At 13, Baran told his mother he was homosexual. Shaw took it hard. His "gay-ity," as she called it in a recent interview, was not something she expected, nor was it something she wanted to deal with. It took Stanley Sumner, her long-time partner — and later the father of her youngest son, Clint — to convince her to soften. He reminded her of Baran’s thoughtfulness toward her and others. "If that’s being gay," she recalled him telling her, "then I hope all my children are gay" (see "Being Gay in Western Massachusetts," page 4).
After dropping out of school in the ninth grade, Baran found part-time work through the Berkshire Training and Employment Youth Program, spending the summers cutting lawns and sweeping walkways for downtown businesses. On the side, he began volunteering at the Berkshire County Association for Retarded Citizens, helping autistic children with everyday obstacles. These work stints were brief, rarely lasting more than a month, and Baran wanted a more stable job. In December 1982, the employment program set him up at the Early Childhood Development Center, a government-funded day-care center serving low-income families. Perched atop a hill on Francis Avenue overlooking downtown Pittsfield, the facility cared for between 80 and 90 children. By March 1983, Baran had applied for a permanent job there.
Although his family had come to accept his sexual orientation, Baran encountered other difficulties as a gay man. Not the least of these was that, for some, his decision to work around children was cause for concern.
The issue was first raised by the family of a three-year-old at the day-care center, Tom Hill. Late in the summer of 1984, Joe Hill, Tom’s mother’s boyfriend, complained about the center allowing a gay man to work with children, according to police reports.
Tom’s mother, Sarah Hill, echoed Joe’s intolerance. "I had a feeling that if they’re gay, they shouldn’t be with kids," she said in court documents. "They shouldn’t get married. They shouldn’t have kids. They shouldn’t be allowed out in public."