Accused, convicted, assaulted, raped, but innocent all along.
Witch hunts are ugly things, and people do really get hurt. As a budding writer back in the 1980s, I was horrified by a series of hysterical sex trials that cropped up, almost at random, around the United States. Hundreds and hundreds of innocent people were charged with the sexual abuse of children—abuse that, in almost all the cases, simply did not happen. It was clear to me then that the cases in question were bogus.
What we saw was the combination of several forces. First, we had power-hungry prosecutors wanting to make a name for themselves with high-profile cases. Second, we had the politically-correct agenda of radical feminists who had concocted a theory of male sexuality and abuse that, while consistent with their premises, did not correspond with the facts. These feminists, in cooperation with the political classes, had created an entire “abuse industry” whose only purpose was to sniff out abuse. The problem was that the premises of this industry were such that abuse was always found.
Consider what was termed the Sexual Abuse Accommodation Syndrome: any child who says they were abused, was abused because children don’t “disclose” unless it really happened. Children who were abused may also be terrified and afraid to disclose. Such fear of disclosure, revealed by denials, is thus an indication that the child was actually abused. So, a child who claims abuse was probably abused, and a child who denied abuse was also the likely victim of abuse. The purpose of the therapist in such cases is to bring the child to full disclosure, no matter what is required to do so. Thus anyone accused of abusing children was presumed guilty, all children were presumed victims, and the entire “therapy” program was geared to convince the child to disclose.
The reality is that such therapy sessions ended up being indoctrination sessions where the goal of the therapist was to convince a child of abuse that the child didn’t believe happened. This was done in numerous ways. Children who denied abuse were insulted, interrogated for hours longer, ridiculed and promised gifts if they “told the truth.” Each denial of abuse resulted in negative feedback, any time a child would parrot back a comment made by the “therapist” the child would be praised and rewarded. It didn’t take long for children, subjected to this real abuse to begin repeating the script that the witch hunter had prepared for them.
Worse yet, many of these children, actually came to believe the stories themselves. There are classic symptoms of child abuse, symptoms that these children were remarkable free from until the therapists in questions were able to convince the children they had actually been abused. Children who didn’t wet the bed, or suffer from nightmares, suddenly exhibited these classic traits of abuse. The therapist had succeeded in creating, though their intensive, exhausting questioning, the very abuse that they claimed to be curing. And that was just the beginning of the horrors that these ideologically-driven monster created.
Once the child had submitted to the therapists the arrests began. Many of these witch-hunts took place at day care centers. The most famous was the McMartin case in Manhattan Beach, California. There the McMartin family suffered through one of the longest trials in America history. As the trial endlessly dragged on it became apparent that the therapists, led by one Kee McFarland, had concocted the entire abuse scenario out of their own warped imagination. McFarland, and her untrained band of social workers, inflicted trauma on the children, discovered that the children were now traumatized and pointed their fingers at utterly innocent people—people who then lost years of their lives, and everything they owned, fighting to establish their own innocence. (One of the McMartin children apologizes here for his lies in court.)
In other regions it was entire communities that were disrupted and dozens of people, most of whom had no connections with one another, were rounded up as “Satanic child molesters” by out-of-control cops. Horrified townsfolk who saw through the bogus charges, and spoke up in opposition, soon found themselves under suspicion and in jail facing molestation charges as well. In the world of witch-hunting anyone who “defends” the witch does so because surely they too are a witch.
Two case in particular caught my attention, perhaps because the accused were themselves so child-like, so young and facing such horrific charges. One was the sad case of 14-year-old Bobby Fijnje who faced prison for child abuse charges brought by Janet Reno, who later became Attorney General of the Unites States. Reno prosecuted this boy on bogus charges of being a Satanist who abused children. Jurors, who found the boy innocent, wrote Reno complaining about the “the failure of the police to tape the questioning of the defendant on the day he was arrested. The failure of a stenographer to record and have the defendant sign a written confession. The clearly leading and suggestive questioning on the part of both child psychologists while interviewing the two children involved… [and] the contradictory testimony on the part of the children themselves….”
Bobby recounted how, without even knowing what the charges were, a cop took him to a squad car and told him: “Before I knew you, I knew that you were guilty, but not that I see you, I definitely know you’re guilty.” Bobby said: “I had no idea what was going on, the scope of what was going on. What that meant. I just started hysterically crying. I didn’t know what was going on.” It was almost two years before Bobby was finally out of custody, after having his name smeared by Reno, who was yearning for higher office. And what’s the life of a mere boy when your political career is at stake.
Fijnje was one of the lucky ones. He was found innocent. In the midst of witch hunts rarely is a suspected witch exonerated. No one wanted to be accused of being “soft on witches” so even those with doubts joined in the chant, “Burn the witch, burn the witch.” The media, always looking for sensationalistic stories that sell, helped fan the flames. It was the perfect politically-created storm. Feminists loved it. The Left-wing media was making money off the misery they helped spread. Politicians were building careers on the accusations. Vast new departments were created to “address” the problem, creating an entire abuse industry. Hundreds of millions flowed from taxpayers to these new organizations. Prosecutors and police found they were handed vast new powers. Conservatives were thrilled as well. They could blame the problem on “the decay of the family” and pornography and any other thing they disliked. Religious leaders said that God was the cure to the problem. Everyone benefited except the victims, the children and the taxpayers who paid for it all. Out of this crisis came a new plethora of horrific “sex offender” laws that plague us to this day.
The second case that caught my attention was that of Bernard Baran. Of the dozens and dozens of case histories I had compiled at the time, Baran’s most upset me. Perhaps to my shame, he was the only victim of the hysteria, who I wrote to in sympathy. Hundreds of others deserved encouragement as well. But Baran was so young and looked so vulnerable that his case upset me more than the others. Awash in a sea of such false accusations I had built up a tougher exterior to avoid the mental anguish of watching so many innocent people suffering needlessly.
While it was true that much of the hysteria was directed against men, not all men were equally suspect. Baran was doubly cursed by the system. Not only was he male, he was gay. Photos of Baran, taken at the time, showed a slight man, who looked like a typical high school student, desperately trying to grow a mustache—just to prove he could. Baran didn’t finish high school, he dropped out. But he wanted to work and he liked helping people. He worked with autistic children, but that was only temporary, so when a full-time job opened up at day-care center he jumped at the chance.
Baran was only 13-years-old when he told his mother he was gay. She wasn’t very accepting of the idea. It was her long-time partner, Stanley Sumner, who pointed out to her how Baran was so caring and attentive to anyone who needed him. He told her: “If that’s being gay, then I hope all my children are gay.” Of course, this was two decades ago and not everyone held he same view. And that’s why the trouble started.
Two of the parents with children in the day care began to complain. The mother said: "I had a feeling that if they’re gay, they shouldn’t be with kids. They shouldn’t get married. They shouldn’t have kids. They shouldn’t be allowed out in public.” These paragons of virtue were druggies and had a history of domestic violence, but they could still feel superior to the awful faggot down at the day-care center. And they seemed determined to save the children from these immoral influence and, as it turns out, make a few bucks in the process.
They reported that their son came home from day care with a bloody penis and had said that “Bernie did it.” The problem was that the day-care center reported the boy was not at the school that day. Baran couldn’t have done anything as he didn’t see the boy. But stories of the complaint spread and panic-stricken parents, worried about a rampaging queer decided to interrogate their children. Under parental questioning, none of which was recorded of course, one small girl allegedly said she was fondled. By now a full fledged inquisition was in motion and the witch in their site was Bernard Baran, still a teenager himself. Parents were urged to question their children, though none of them really knew how a proper interview should be conducted. Most believed that abuse had happened and by now they merely wanted the children to say it had, so they could move on.
Baran was arrested. He posted bail after two days and returned home only to be rearrested almost immediately, with more and more charges being thrown at him. That was last time Baran was a free man. The prosecutor, to make sure he had something that would stick, threw 24 charges at the confused Baran. The boy was offered a plea bargain if he would just admit guilt to some charges. Knowing he was innocent Baran decided to fight, he had faith in the American justice system, a faith that was clearly misplaced. Baran was sentenced to two life sentences in prison, all for a crime that didn’t take place.
In this case the prosecutor didn’t just use the dodgy “interview” tactics that led to other false convictions. He also hide evidence from the defense. But they also spent weeks rehearsing the children to respond to questions. And that rehearsal paid off. Jury members said it was the way the children testified that convinced them of the guilty of Baran, not because any actual evidence existed.
The only conclusive evidence that a child had been abused was with the boy whose parents made the initial accusation. He was found to have gonorrhea of the throat. Radley Balko, at Reason, notes the problem with this, and the dishonesty of Prosecutor Daniel Ford:
When that child later tested positive for gonorrhea of the throat, Ford used the test against Baran at trial, even though A) the child never accused Baran of forcing him to perform oral sex, B) the child, in fact, specifically denied having sexual contact with Baran on the witness stand, C) Baran tested negative for gonorrhea, D) the boy had told his mother two months prior that his stepfather had orally raped him, and E) on the very day Baran was convicted, charges against the stepfather were turned over to the D.A.'s office for possible prosecution. Baran's counsel was never informed of the allegation against the stepfather. Addressing the gonorrhea issue in his closing arguments, Ford implied that Baran's "lifestyle" made it probable that he contracted gonorrhea at other times and knew how to quickly eradicate it to cover his tracksFord sounded like an evangelist for the Religious Right. In his eyes Baran simply had to be guilty, he was gay. Like the pogroms of Russia that convicted Jews of crimes, merely because they were Jews, Ford convicted Baran of serious crimes merely because he was gay. A friend of Baran’s received similar treatment from Ford and the local police. He gave an affidavit saying that the police had come to his home and told him “Bernie must have had a partner because it took more than one person to do what he did. They said Bernie was driving around with kids in a car. They accused me of going to school and of bringing children to my house… I had never been in the school, ever. Nor did I even own a car at that point.”
Police demanded to know if this man were “Bernie’s lover.” He said: “Mr. Ford kept going on about my relationship with Bernie. He called me a ‘fag’ repeatedly. He asked if I was a ‘homosexual’ pronouncing the word in a derogatory way and he demanded to know if I was Bernie’s lover. Mr. Ford accused me of being involved in sexually abusing children. When I denied that I had ever molested children and said that I had no knowledge that Bernie molested children, he accused me of lying. He said he would come after me next.” The police would follow this man and routinely pulled him over on the slightest pretense.
By coincidence, years later, this victim of the prosecutor was working in a project with various students. One of the students was the boy who started the accusations, though now he was much older. One day in class this boy gave a presentation “about suing for money. Another student started asking questions. Peter bragged that his mom got money because he, Peter, had a gay teacher in day care. He said it was easy. All he had to do was say that this teacher did something to him to get the money, even though nothing happened. He said the person who really abused him was his father.” The girl who allegedly made claims against Baran, several months after his conviction “told her therapist that nothing had really happened and that her mother (a drug-addicted prostitute and a friend of the initial accuser’s mother) had told her to say that it had so they could get a lot of money. …The two mothers sued the school for several million dollars.” An investigation by the insurance company turned up this evidence, which the government had but never gave to Baran’s attorney.
Four days after his conviction, the slight boy, was raped for the first time in prison. Over the years he was assaulted and raped numerous times, all the while knowing he was innocent of any crime.
Baran’s family and friends continued to fight for him. As an appellate court ruled the efforts of Baran’s friends and family,
...yielded, among other things, certain documents and materials that trial counsel had never seen as well as information and documents, not part of the trial record, that were known to but not used by trial counsel. By way of example, among the materials not seen by trial counsel were five lengthy unedited videotapes of interviews conducted by the district attorney's office in October and November, 1984, of children A, B, C, D, and F(3); the district attorney ultimately turned these videotapes over to motion counsel in September, 2004. Also among the materials unknown to trial counsel were documents generated by police and the Department of Social Services (DSS) concerning contemporaneous accusations made by Boy A and Girl E that they had each been molested by their respective mother's boyfriends; these documents, never produced by the district attorney, were discovered by motion counsel in the civil case files. Among the materials known to but not used by trial counsel, thus not becoming part of the trial record, was a pediatrician's report of her examination of Girl E referencing the prior molestation of Girl E by the mother's boyfriend.The court also found that unreliable evidence had been admitted in court and “there had been multiple instances of prosecutorial misconduct.” Included in this was the prosecutor showing only edited taped versions of interview with the children. The court found that the versions of tapes shown in court edited out “statements in which the children deny that Baran had done anything to them and statements where they accuse others at ECDC [the day care center] both of abuse and of witnessing abuse. The unedited videotapes show the behavior of the children, the extent to which they were distracted and nonresponse during the interviews, the degree to which their parents participated in the interview process, and the range of interviewing techniques used.” The court said it could “not settle the question whether the unedited videotapes were deliberately withheld by the prosecution, [but] there are indications in the trial transcript consistent with that contention.” They also found that the full tapes “evaluated in the context of the entire record, are exculpatory and materials insofar as they “create a reasonable doubt that did not otherwise exist.” These tapes provided “considerable material from which it could be inferred that the children’s testimony was coached. Particularly powerful are the numerous instances in which various complainants deny that the defendant had engaged in any misconduct. At a minimum, these tapes would have provided significant grist for impeachment of the children's testimony as well as those who had interview them.”
The court said that the prosecutor’s “closing also contained a number of passages apparently designed to inflame the juror’s passions” including making claims that Baran “could have raped and sodomized and abused these children whenever he felt the primitive urge to satisfy his sexual appetite.” He said Baran “was like a chocoholic in a candid store, and indeed, for him perpetrating these despicable acts was like taking candy from a baby.” He told the jury in closing “I beseech you, I beg you, think of those children and bring back a verdict of guilty on each and every one of these charges.”
The appellate court also found that Baran’s attorney had no experience in criminal law, that Baran’s mother had quite literally hired him by accident. The attorney provided inadequate and defective counsel throughout the trial, including allowing inadmissible and faulty evidence into consideration. The court said that Baran’s own attorney “facilitated the speculative, stereotypical and deeply insidious links between homosexuality, gonorrhea, and child molestation.” These bad calls by the attorney “likely had a material effect on the jury and gave rise to substantial risk that justice miscarried.”
Baran continued to insist on his innocence and that meant he was ineligible for parole. He was put in treatment as a sex offender where “confession” is considered a sign of “healing,” while refusal to confess is proof that one is resisting treatment. In 2006 a court ruled that Baran did not get a fair trial and the was incompetently represented. The appeals court upheld that ruling as well, only a couple of months ago. New prosecutors were then left with the decision of whether or not to refile charges against Baran, who was now out of jail but forced to wear a tracking device. And only a few days ago they decided that the evidence didn’t warrant refilling the charges against Baran.
When Bernard Baran was arrested he was a 19-year-old kid. He spent the next 21 years of his life in prison for a crime that he didn’t commit. He was victim of a sex abuse panic that swept the nation. He was also the victim of bigoted attitudes and found guilty largely because he was gay. Because he insisted on the truth, insisted he was innocent, he was denied parole when eligible for it. Because he wouldn’t confess he was kept in a more dangerous prison and classified as a “sexually dangerous person.” He was punished for telling the truth and bribed to lie, a bribe he refused.
In the Southeastern Correctional Center three inmates beat him and gang raped him. To be eligible for a safer prison all he had to do was confess. In Norfolk prison he twice tried to take his own life. When he was finally sent to a mental hospital (which is still a prison no matter what they call it) he had to endure therapists who “attempt to ‘heal’ those with sexual illnesses,” including his alleged illness. Today, he is free. Today, the cumulative evidence shows he was innocent all along, just as he said. He was not a criminal; he was a victim.
To fight the sexual hysteria that periodically grips the American people opens one up to risks, to accusations, to what John T. Flynn called the smearbund. So why do it? In response I offer up the story of Bernard Baran. That's why.