Joseph Allen is Going Back to Prison

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

Today is a very sad day for me. At one p.m. (Eastern Daylight Time)  my friend Joseph Allen — an innocent man — will be sent back to prison by Judge Virgil Sinclair. He may never be free again.

The case is complicated and impossible to summarize in a few sentences. Nancy Smith was a driver for the Head Start program in Lorain Ohio. In 1993, a disturbed woman claimed that Nancy was driving her pre-schoolers to the home of a man named Joseph who would then sadistically abuse them sexually. At the time, national hysteria over sexual abuse at daycares was still raging. At first, the case went nowhere because there was no evidence to back up the accusations and much evidence against them. But the woman went to the media and caused a panic.

Eventually Joseph Allen was arrested. While Joseph was originally identified as white, Joseph Allen is a very black man. To this day, Joseph Allen and Nancy Smith have never met. The only witness to link them very obviously committed perjury.

Over months, children were cajoled into testifying. Smith and Allen were convicted in August of 1994. Smith was sentenced to 30-90 years. Joseph received 5 consecutive life sentences.

For a more detailed account, read this article I wrote about the case with Dr. Emily Horowitz.

Early in 2009, Smith and Allen were back in court due to a sentencing error that needed to be corrected. The judge assigned to the case — James Burge — took the time to examine the record. He quickly realized that the case against Smith and Allen was bogus. In June of 2009, he acquitted them both. And in a decent  world, that would have ended the matter.

But prosecutors have to be right — especially when they are wrong.

Acquittals are supposed to be final. Nevertheless, prosecutors appealed the acquittals and “won” before the Ohio Supreme Court in April of 2011.

And then nothing more happened for a very long time. By this time the press and most of the public had realized that the Smith/Allen case was a cruel and gross miscarriage of justice. Prosecutors realized that pressing their advantage could come at a political cost.

But forces hostile to Smith and Allen were at work.

In April of this year, Judge Burge was forced off the case and Virgil Sinclair was appointed to replace him.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys worked out a deal. Smith and Allen would be convicted of lesser charges and sentenced to time served. In exchange, they would give up their rights permanently to appeal their cases.

Sinclair accepted the arrangement for Nancy Smith. But he insisted that Joseph Allen go back to prison. And give up his appeal rights. His sentenced will be reduced to 15-25 years.

Now I don’t possess Sinclair’s brilliant legal mind. But he seems to believe that the crimes that Joseph Allen didn’t commit were far more serious than the ones Nancy Smith didn’t commit.

I have had phone conversations with Joseph almost every day for the past couple of weeks while he struggled over whether or not to accept this horrible deal.

Yesterday, he phoned me to tell me he was going to go along with it.

Why?

An appeal would be very expensive. (Although I’m confident that the National Center for Reason and Justice (NCRJ) would have committed itself to raising the money.) But given the record of the Ohio Appellate Court and the Ohio Supreme Court, Joseph could never have won in Ohio. The deck was stacked against him. He might well have prevailed in federal court. But it would have taken many years to get there.

Joseph Allen will receive no relief from the parole board or the governor. He has already served closed to 15 years, so at least he should be out in ten more years. The NCRJ will do everything it can to support him while he is back in prison.

So once again the bullies have showed us who runs the school yard.

Why do they keep getting away with this crap?

One reason is that no one ever pays a price — political or otherwise — for causing and perpetrating injustice.

As citizens, we cannot continue to condemn wrongdoing and reward it at the same time.

I expect to post more about Joseph after today’s hearing is behind us.

-Bob Chatelle