In a panic, Baran’s mother sold the family car to retain a lawyer. Scrolling through the phone book, she came upon the name of Leonard Conway, a local attorney who, unbeknownst to Shaw, was not a criminal-defense lawyer. She retained him, mistaking his name for that of Leonard Cohen, the public defender who had handled Baran’s arraignment.
Before the trial started, prosecutors contacted Baran with a plea bargain. Exhausted and unsure what to do, Baran called his mother. She told him that she knew he hadn’t done anything wrong, and he should stand up for what he believed in. But she also said she would understand if he took the deal. Then she asked him what he would do.
"Fight," he told her. Had he taken the deal, Baran would have been released 12 years ago.
"I’ve never forgiven myself for giving him that advice," Shaw says.
The trial was held in January 1985 and lasted five days. Prosecutor Dan Ford, a Berkshire County assistant district attorney (who was subsequently appointed Superior Court associate justice), centered his prosecution on the testimony of the children. There was little physical evidence.
Of the six original accusers, five testified. Tom Hill never took the stand, forcing the trial judge to drop the charges involving him. In the end, Baran was never convicted of any charge related to the boy whose family had sparked the investigation.
Baran testified on the final day. He appeared pale and exhausted, his mother recalls. The jury was unswayed. After less than five hours of deliberation, jurors found Baran guilty of nine counts: five for assault and battery against a child under 14, and four of child rape in the cases of Jane Reed, David Stowe, Mary Gomez, and Kathy Cooper. Ford dropped the rape charge involving Peter Slocum.
At 19, Bernard Baran was sentenced to two concurrent life terms in prison.
Flaws in the case
A three-month Boston Phoenix investigation by a team of Boston University journalism graduate students revealed deep flaws in the prosecution of Bernard Baran. Above all, almost every child’s case left important questions unanswered — significant gaps, given that the children’s testimony convinced the jurors of Baran’s guilt.
"The way the kids acted ... impressed me. That helped me [reach a decision]," said juror Edward Fields, a retired Pittsfield police officer, in a recent phone interview.
Indeed, the children had been well prepared. Before the trial, Ford led them through weeks of mock testimony, according to a DSS report included in court documents. But as in many other day-care sexual-abuse cases, the questioning techniques employed may have led the children wrongly to accuse Baran.
The detectives and psychologists investigating the allegations were working in uncharted territory, using unproven techniques that were later repudiated. "We know a lot more than we did 20 years ago about children’s memory and suggestibility, and how to interview children in the most forensically sound and effective way," Assistant District Attorney David Deakin, chief of the family-protection and sexual-assault unit in Suffolk County, said in a recent interview. "We’ve learned from all kinds of cases, not just day-care child-abuse cases, what works and what doesn’t when it comes to interviewing children."