Boston Globe Has Come-to-Jesus Moment with Bernard Baran, Louise Woodward

October 20, 2014

Something interesting is happening in the Boston Globe’s editorial pages. The paper is doing a sort of media culpa regarding some high-profile – and highly debated – criminal convictions in the ’80s and ’90s. And it’s been uncharacteristically emphatic in its positions.

Begin with the redoubtable Harvey Silverglate’s Globe op-ed a week ago.

Justice system failed Bernard Baran

There should be consequences

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BERNARD BARAN of Pittsfield died a free man on Sept. 1 at age 49. But for an act of God, he would likely have died in prison, forever deemed guilty of raping children at a day care center where he’d worked.

Convicted amid the national panic over supposed sexual abuse of preschool children, Baran fell victim to homophobia, hysteria, and arguable prosecutorial misconduct. While many now recognize these prosecutions as modern-day witch hunts, those responsible for his incarceration remain unapologetic and unpunished.

 

That was followed by this editorial in yesterday’s Boston Sunday Globe.

When miscarriages of justice occur, prosecutors must answer for actions

TWENTY-NINE YEARS ago, a Berkshire County prosecutor named Daniel A. Ford made at least one awful decision: On the skimpiest baranB-1797249evidence he charged a 19-year-old man with multiple counts of child rape. That may not be the worst of it; there are indications he may have played fast and loose with trial rules in order to get a conviction. Although Ford denies he did anything wrong, trial records suggest the defense attorney was unaware of significant exculpatory evidence held by the prosecution. In an atmosphere of homophobia and hysteria, the defendant, an openly gay teenager named Bernard F. Baran Jr., didn’t stand a chance. Convicted, he spent 21 years in prison for crimes he didn’t commit.

 

In his op-ed, Silverglate “raised the possibility of removing Ford from his current job as a Superior Court judge, a position he has held since 1989.” The Globe editorial calls that “premature,” but says “Silverglate and Baran’s other supporters are right to seek a full, public inquiry into both the prosecution’s conduct and its decision to try the case in the first place.”

Further down Memory Lane, yesterday’s Globe also featured this op-ed by Lee Scheier, an investigative reporter working on a book about shaken-baby syndrome.

Martha Coakley, stop lauding bad science for self-promotion

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AFTER COMING under attack in an political ad for not doing enough to protect children, Martha Coakley, the Democratic candidate for governor, defended her record. In a large above-the-fold photograph published in the Globe Oct. 3, Coakley is seen standing next to Deborah Eappen, mother of Matthew Eappen, the baby whom Louise Woodward was charged with shaking to death in 1997.

Coakley, the prosecutor in that infamous trial, set up the photo op ostensibly to remind the public of her commitment to protecting children. If so, Coakley must think Massachusetts voters have short memories.

 

Because, Scheier asserts, “[t]he truth is that Martha Coakley’s deft misuse of science actually came very close to sending an innocent caretaker to prison for life.”

Who’s right here? Roll your own.

But one thing’s clear: Ellen Clegg, the Globe’s interim editorial page editor, has certainly added some juice to those pages.