Hoping for More Contributions for Joseph Allen’s Clemency Fund

[Note: Friends of Justice is a personal blog. I speak only for myself.]

The response to my plea for funds to help Joseph Allen’s lawyer has been most encouraging. Thank you all so much!

I’m hoping some more of you will consider helping. You can send a check (marked Clemency Fund) to the National Center for Reason and Justice, POB 191101, Roxbury MA 02119. You can also donate via Google or PayPal at the NCRJ web site — http://ncrj.org/donate/.

This is a complicated case and difficult to summarize. But I will try.

Smith/Allen Case Summary

On May 7, 1993, in Lorain, Ohio, a young mother – who had been previously convicted of distributing cocaine from her home – took her 4-year-old daughter to the hospital. She claimed that the girl hadn’t gone to Lorain Head Start School that day. She claimed that the bus driver, Nancy Smith, had driven the children on her bus that afternoon to see a man named “Joseph.” Joseph allegedly tied the girl up, taped her eyes, and molested her with a stick.

But the bus odometer showed that Smith had driven her usual route. School records showed that the daughter had been present at school. The aide who rode the bus with Nancy said that nothing unusual had happened that week, And Nancy that afternoon hadn’t even been driving the school bus. She had been driving for a Meals-on-Wheels program. The little girl showed no signs of physical harm.

When police detective Tom Cantu interviewed the mother and daughter, the daughter provided almost no information. He interviewed other children on the bus, who said that they didn’t know a man named Joseph, that Nancy never touched them, and that they liked Nancy.

The accusing mother became upset because the police were finding no information to confirm her story. So she created a moral panic by contacting other Head Start parents, telling them her unfounded accusations, and causing them to aggressively question their own children. She also went to the media, appearing on a local TV station’s newscast. More accusations resulted.

In these accusations, “Joseph” was variously described as white, black, black with white spots, white with black spots.   Several children said he had blue eyes. The first person the accusing mother identified as “Joseph” – the owner of a gay bar ‑ was white. (Joseph Allen, who was eventually convicted with Nancy, is a very dark black man.) Cantu gave Nancy a lie-detector test, which she passed with flying colors. Cantu concluded that there was no case.

The District Attorney’s office, unfortunately, refused to give up. They had the children aggressively and coercively interviewed. On these tapes the children initially deny that any abuse took place. But the interrogators refuse to take no for an answer. Two experts (Dr. Mel Guyer and Dr. Kathleen Quinn) later reviewed the videotapes and affirmed that they contained no evidence of wrongdoing by either Smith or Allen. Dr, Guyer said, “All of the interviews are outrageous, horrible, terrible,,,there is a high incidence of suggestibility. It’s outrageous.” At the trial, the judge refused to allow the jurors to hear these tapes.

Joseph Allen was an unskilled laborer from Alabama, who was preparing to return there because his mother was ill. He was visited by a 15-year-old girl, who was the daughter of a friend, and one or two other girls. During the visit, they stole the keys to Joseph’s car and subsequently took off with it.

Joseph’s problems started when he reported the theft to the police. When the thief was found, she claimed that Joseph had offered her money for sex. Joseph had no money. And if he had done such a thing, he never would have reported the theft to the police.

Joseph, unfortunately, had a conviction for sexual-battery with a minor on his record. The girl’s mother made the accusation after Joseph broke off their relationship. There was no physical or medical evidence against Joseph. Joseph’s lawyer – who would later defend Nancy Smith – advised Joseph to take a plea, and he served three years. Lawyers frequently advise men accused of child sexual abuse to take a plea in order to avoid very long prison terms.

Joseph had also been arrested for murder in 1975. His conviction was voided on appeal and the case was then dropped.

Given what was found on his record, it is not surprising that the Lorain police thought that they had finally found “Joseph.” They thoroughly searched his house and questioned his neighbors. The children had claimed that the abuse took place upstairs and in the basement. Joseph lived in a single-story house with no basement. No neighbor ever saw a yellow school bus parked in the neighborhood.

The Lorain police created a photo lineup including Joseph and five other black men. They showed these photos to ten different children, including the original accuser. If a child identified someone other than Joseph, the police questioned their choice. Even with this improper prompting, only one of the ten children identified Joseph. And this was not the original accuser.

A few days later, the first accusing mother went to the police and said that her daughter could now identify Joseph. By this time, Joseph’s picture had appeared in the newspapers.

Joseph Allen was then put through a live lineup with the children. Most of the children didn’t identify him. Those that did were immediately taken away, Those that didn’t were asked to reconsider or were brought back. The original accuser finally “identified” Allen when her mother grabbed her finger and pointed it at him. Children were coaxed to identify Allen. A child’s failure to identify Allen was attributed to fear — and thus evidence of Allen’s guilt.

Smith and Allen were tried together in July of  1994. The prosecution produced a witness – a bus aide  – who claimed that Joseph had once come on the bus and terrified the children. What the jury never learned was that on June 17, 1993 during the aide’s first interrogation (which was recorded) she said that the black man who had come on the bus was the father of one of the children. During this interview, the aide had also said that neither Nancy nor the children ever talked about a man named Joe of Joseph. After this perjury, the father came forward as a rebuttal witness. But the prosecution discredited him by calling him a criminal.  The aide was the only witness to link Smith and Allen, who to this day have never met.

On August 4, 1994, after six and a half hours of deliberation, the jury found Smith and Allen guilty. Joseph Allen was sentenced to five consecutive life sentences. Nancy Smith was sentenced to 30 to 90 years and ordered to pay the prosecution cost.

In 1995, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected the appeal.

Smith and Allen rotted in prison for years.

In February of 2004, the National Center for Reason and Justice agreed to sponsor the Smith/Allen case. But they were hampered in their efforts to help due to a lack of funds.

Eventually, Nancy Smith’s lawyer found that an error had been made in the sentencing entry in the case. He asked Judge James Burge to bring his client into court for the correction. He hoped that he had found a way to finally reopen the case. Joseph Allen’s lawyer made the same request.

On February 4, 2009, Judge Burge released Nancy Smith on $100,000 bond. A few weeks later, Joseph Allen was released on the same bond. Allen’s family has very little money. Most of the bond fee in his case was paid by the National Center for Reason and Justice.

In June, 2009, Burge called Smith and Allen into his court and acquitted both of them.

This should have ended the case. But prosecutors never give up. They challenged Burge’s right to acquit.

In late June of 2010, the Appeals Court ruled that Nancy’s acquittal will stand, but Joseph would have to go back to prison. The reason: in 1994, Joseph’s incompetent public defender had neglected to file the routine motion for acquittal. The prosecution appealed the Smith ruling.

In April of 2011, the Ohio Supreme Court rules unanimously that Burge did not have the right to acquit Smith and Allen. They were asked to reconsider. The ruling was not changed, but two of the justices did change their minds and say that Burge did have the right to acquit.

And then – nothing happened. Smith and Allen were not called back to Court to be resentenced to prison.

Almost a year later, I heard that Dateline was planning to do a full hour segment about the case. I called Joseph to ask what was going on. He knew nothing about it.

Joseph was ignored and bad-mouthed on Dateline.

Shortly after the Dateline program aired, Nancy’s lawyer – with the assistance of the Ohio Innocence Project – filed a massive appeal for clemency for Nancy.

Either Smith and Allen are both innocent or they are both guilty. Unlike the Ohio Innocence project, the National Center for Reason and Justice has always supported both of them.

Joseph Allen has become a good personal friend. We corresponded for years while he was in prison. And we get together when he is in Boston visiting family. He is a sweet and generous man. He has no sexual interest in children.

Joseph has an excellent lawyer, who has always worked pro bono. He has absorbed all legal expenses out of his own pocket. He is currently working on a petition for Joseph. That is why the National Center for Reason and Justice wants to help him. We hope that you will consider helping as well by contributing to their Clemency Fund.

Please send a check (marked Clemency Fund) to the National Center for Reason and Justice, POB 191101, Roxbury MA 02119. You can also donate via Google or PayPal at the NCRJ web site — http://ncrj.org/donate/.

Joseph Allen and Nancy Smith must both be freed and allowed to get on with their lives.