PITTSFIELD, Mass. – Bernard Baran, who was convicted in 1985 of raping five children at a day care center, posted bail Friday and was in the process of being released from prison pending a new trial.
Baran, 42, posted $50,000 bail at Berkshire District Court. He was to be fitted with electronic monitoring equipment and was to be released later Friday — a free man for the first time since he began serving one of three life sentences.
As soon as he posted bail, Baran and his mother embraced, with tears streaming down both their faces.
"I never gave up and I told him not to give up," his mother, Bertha Shaw, said before seeing him. "He's gotten stronger."
Baran's supporters have long argued that he was the victim of a nationwide hysteria at the time that led to a string of high-profile child abuse prosecutions of day care owners and workers. They also attacked investigators' methods of interviewing children at the day care center, which his supporters said led to false allegations being planted in their minds.
After reviewing Baran's new trial request for about a year, Superior Court Judge Francis Fecteau ruled earlier this month that Baran received an incompetent defense and is entitled to a new trial.
Among other problems with his initial defense, Fecteau said Baran's lawyer didn't object to the way some of the alleged victims were being questioned.
Baran's case came about after a parent learned that Baran was openly gay. She said she didn't want "a queer" working with her child at the Pittsfield day care center, and later called police alleging abuse. Another parent soon said her daughter was abused.
During the investigation, state social workers went to the day care center and staged a puppet show for children, demonstrating the difference between good and bad touches. After the show, two boys said they saw Baran touch the other.
A fifth alleged victim came forward the day Baran's trial began. Baran's attorney during the trial allowed the fifth charge to be included during the trial, even though he had been given no time to prepare a defense.
He was convicted in 1985 and later lost an appeal. His case languished until the late 1990s, when some other high-profile daycare molestation convictions were revisited.
Baran's case was one of the first in the nation in which preschoolers testified against their alleged abusers.
Baran's supporters view the judge's ruling as a strong step toward acquittal. Several convictions for mass child abuse from the 1980s have been overturned, including those involving workers at the Little Rascals day care center in Edenton, N.C. In another case involving the McMartin Preschool near Los Angeles, charges were dropped by prosecutors after juries deadlocked on criminal charges.
A year after Baran's case, three members of the Amirault family, who ran the Fells Acres daycare in Malden, were convicted of abusing children. Gerald "Tooky" Amirault was paroled in 2004 after serving 18 years in prison. His sister and mother were convicted during a separate trial and were released from prison in 1995. All three denied they ever abused children.
"I'm convinced that all of the high-profile day care cases of the '80s were absolute hogwash," Bob Chatelle, a Baran supporter who has helped attract attention to Baran's case, has said. Chatelle helped raise about $280,000 for Baran's new defense with a Web site, http://www.freebaran.org.
"The Baran case was railroaded through in a couple of months and was then forgotten about," Chatelle said. "No one was lifting a finger to do anything."