[Note: Friends of Justice is a personal blog. I speak only for myself.]
The first accusation was false. A young mother — who had previously been convicted for distributing cocaine from her home — claimed that on May 7, 1993, her daughter hadn’t gone to Lorain Head Start School. She claimed that 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.
The other children initially denied the mother’s story. When the children on the bus were questioned by the police, they said that Nancy had never touched them, that they didn’t know a man named Joseph, and that they liked Nancy.
The accusing mother created a moral panic by contacting the 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.
“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” was white. Joseph Allen is a very dark black man.
Joseph Allen’s home was quite different than what was described by the children. The abuse supposedly occurred upstairs and in the basement. Allen lived in a single-story cottage with no basement. No one ever saw a yellow school bus parked in his neighborhood.
Audiotapes show that the children were improperly, 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.” The judge refused to allow the jurors to hear these tapes.
The lineup procedures used against Joseph Allen were critically flawed. The police first used a photo lineup. Nine of the ten children — including the daughter of the first accusing mother – either picked no one or picked someone other than Allen. The first mother had always claimed that “Joseph” was white. But after Joseph Allen’s picture was published in the paper, she brought the daughter to the police station to identify Allen. Most of the children also failed to identify Allen during the live lineup. Those who did were immediately taken away. Those that didn’t were encouraged to reconsider or were brought back. Children were coaxed in various ways to pick Allen. A child’s failure to identify Allen was attributed to fear — and thus evidence of Allen’s guilt.
The only witness to link Smith and Allen apparently perjured herself. Smith and Allen to this day have never met outside the courtroom. At trial, an aide claimed that Allen had once come on the bus and terrified the children. But during the initial recorded police interview, this same aide had explained that the black man who had come on the bus was the father of one of the children. The father testified to this effect at the trial, but the prosecution discredited him by saying he was a criminal. The aide also said that neither Nancy nor the children ever talked about a man named Joe or Joseph. The prosecution was well aware of the aide’s initial interview. According to affidavits, prosecutor Jonathan Rosenbaum once said to another witness, “God damn it, you will answer the way I want you to answer. Is that understood?”
For more information, see http://www.crimemagazine.com/shame-lorain-ohio