By contrast, Tomís gonorrhea was an unmistakable sign of sexual abuse. Prosecutor Ford suggested that Baran was more likely to get gonorrhea because of his "lifestyle." But while the evidence verified that Tom was sexually abused, it did not necessarily point to Baran. Baran told authorities that he had contracted a sexually transmitted disease in his early teens, but that it had been treated and cured. He tested negative for gonorrhea at Berkshire Medical Center on the day of his second arrest.
In fact, evidence suggests someone else molested Tom. Shortly after the allegations surfaced, DSS removed Tom and his brother Keith from the Hill home, placing them in foster care. Sarah and Joe Hill had already separated. Then, on January 17, 1985, just days before Baranís trial, Tom told his foster mother that he had been abused by his motherís current boyfriend. (The name of the boyfriend was cited in official reports and documents.) She immediately filed a report with DSS.
Four days later, on the first day of Baranís trial, social worker William Baughen substantiated the allegations against the boyfriend. As in any case of child rape, he requested that the case be referred to the district attorney.
But the case was not referred to the DA by DSS regional director Federico Brid for more than a week. On the same day the jury announced Baranís verdict, Brid wrote, "Please find a DA referral on behalf of Tom Hill ... whom we believe to have been sexually abused by ... [the] motherís boyfriend. As you may recall, Tom was one of the children involved in the [day-care] series of referrals."
The Phoenix could not locate Brid for comment.
The memo was not stamped "received" by the DAís Office until five days after Baranís sentencing. The trial was officially over. Ford never shared this information with the defense, according to Baranís new attorneys. In a recent phone call, Ford declined to comment.
The boyfriend was never charged. Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.
In most cases of child rape, "The DAís Office would know that very day," said Baughen in a recent interview. "The social worker would have the child tell the story with officials present." In his 23 years as a social worker, Baughen said, he had never heard of it taking that long for the DA to find out about a possible child rape. "It would be hard to guess how something like that would happen," he said.
Not providing such information to Baranís defense attorneys highlights another problem with the case: the prosecution did not give potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense. For example, there was evidence to suggest that four-year-old David Stowe was influenced by his motherís state of mind. Darlene Stowe suffered from a psychiatric problem similar to an extreme form of hypochondria, according to her doctor. Her syndrome was "a coping mechanism to suppress anger and hostility," wrote Dr. Roy Meals, a Los Angeles surgeon, in a letter to Stoweís insurance company discouraging an operation to correct an injury that resulted from her mental condition.
It was possible that Stowe transferred her emotional distress to her son. Just days before Baranís trial began, Dr. Barry Simmons of Brigham and Womenís Hospital, in Boston, wrote a letter to a Pittsfield colleague about Stoweís disorder. In it he stated, "The concern, of course, is that if one robs a patient of a physical disability that they used to cover an underlying emotional problem, they will only [find an outlet] elsewhere."
While a motherís psychological problems would not necessarily lead her to induce her child to make a false charge of sexual abuse, Baranís lawyer did not have this information about the mother of one of his clientís accusers. Consequently, it was never presented to the jury.
In the years following Baranís conviction, two of the victimsí families filed civil charges against the day-care center, and settled for an undisclosed amount, in 1995. Meanwhile, at least two of the children and one of the adult accusers have made statements that undermine their original allegations.
Kathy Cooper recanted to her therapist, Audrey Ringer, shortly after the trial ended. "Audrey stated that it came out in the session that Bernie Baran did not rape Kathy at [the day-care center] last year," according to a therapy-progress report written by Ringerís supervisor, M.L. Hamilton, dated October 1, 1985, found in court records. "Kathy indicated that her mother led her to believe that if she didnít say the right words that they wouldnít get a lot of money."
Audrey Ringer refused to comment.
While her memory of the case is vague, Kathyís grandmother, Helen Cooper, said in a recent interview that during the questioning of Kathy, the girlís mother "was hollering and telling her, ĎRemember what happened! Remember! You can remember!í"
"I guess she told her what happened," Helen Cooper continued. "To tell you the truth, [Kathy] wasnít trying to say anything at all. She was playing with her foot.... I donít even think she knew what was going on." Nevertheless, Helen Cooper says she believes Baran is guilty.
Kathy Cooper could not be reached for comment. Her mother died several years ago.
Tom Hill also reportedly changed his story. As a teenager, he attended a "youth at risk" special-education class at Monument Mountain High School, in Great Barrington. Coincidentally, Richard Anderson, once a close friend of Baranís, taught the class. Anderson and Baran had not been in touch for several years.
In a signed affidavit, Anderson said that he asked his students to write about how to make a living. Unable to read or write, Tom presented his assignment orally. Anderson wrote, "Tom bragged that his mom got money because he ... had a gay teacher in day care. He said it was easy. All he had to do was say that the teacher did something to him to get the money even though nothing happened. He said the person who really abused him was his father."
It was not until Tom Hill said the name "Baran" that Anderson realized who the teenager was talking about. He never confronted Hill but did contact the DA, although nothing came of the information, according to Andersonís affidavit.
Repeated attempts to reach Tom Hill were unsuccessful. His brother Keith, with whom he lives, said Tom would not be available. "If this is about his childhood, heís not going to talk about it," Keith Hill said.page 1 page 2 page 3 page 4 page 5
Issue Date: June 18 - 24, 2004
Back to the News & Features table of contents
|about the phoenix | advertising info | Webmaster | work for us|
|Copyright © 2005 Phoenix Media/Communications Group|