St. Louis Man Who Narrowly Escaped the Death Penalty Released After Serving More Than 30 Years In Spite of Meritless Appeal by AG
Innocence Project Calls for Independent Audit of Other Cases Handled by Detective and Serologist
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(ST. LOUIS, MO - November 14, 2012) — A St. Louis man walked out of a Jefferson City courthouse today after serving more than 30 years for a rape and murder that new and previously undisclosed evidence shows he didn’t commit. Judge Daniel Green, who overturned George Allen, Jr.’s 1982 rape and murder conviction on November 2, 2012 based on the police’s failure to disclose numerous pieces of evidence pointing to his innocence, ordered Allen’s release. Even though St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce announced last week that she would not retry Allen for the crime, Attorney General Chris Koster filed a meritless appeal to a state intermediate appeals court.
“While we are relieved that George Allen will not have to spend another day in prison, it is deeply disappointing that Attorney General Chris Koster has filed a meritless appeal further delaying justice for Mr. Allen,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “This case has uncovered serious misconduct by the lead detective and by the serologist who testified against Mr. Allen even though there was compelling evidence of his innocence. Instead of wasting resources on an appeal, the state should conduct an independent audit of all the cases handled by the detective and the serologist to ensure that others weren’t wrongly convicted for crimes they didn’t commit.”
After Attorney General Koster announced his intention to appeal the case, Congressman William Lacy Clay (D-MO) sent a letter to Koster criticizing his decision to delay justice for Allen. In his letter, Clay notes the overwhelming evidence pointing to Allen’s innocence and expresses his disturbance with “serious misconduct on the part of the St. Louis Police Department.”
“Mr. Allen is pleased to finally be reunited with his 80-year-old mother Lonzetta Taylor,” said Ameer Gado, an attorney with Bryan Cave LLP. “While it’s unfortunate that he will have to endure yet another appeal, we are confident that he will ultimately be fully exonerated.” Dan Harvath, also of Bryan Cave, added, “We are ecstatic that George will finally have the freedom he has always deserved but has been wrongfully denied for the last 30 years of his life.”
Police initially arrested Allen for the 1982 rape and murder of Mary Bell by accident, mistaking him for another suspect. As the Court decision noted, rather than releasing Allen, detectives with the St. Louis Police Department decided to interrogate Allen anyway. Allen, who is a diagnosed schizophrenic and had been admitted to psychiatric wards several times, eventually ended up making a recorded confession, which one of the interrogating officers has since conceded was questionable. On the recording of the interrogation, Allen informs the officers that he is under the influence of alcohol, and throughout the interrogation an officer prompts Allen to give him answers to fit the crime, often asking Allen to change his answer to do so.
Allen was convicted based largely on his statement that was elicited through an interrogation supervised by Detective Herb Riley and serology evidence that has since been proven false that was conducted by lab analyst Joseph Crow. Newly discovered police and lab documents that were not disclosed to the prosecution or defense show that police actually found semen samples excluding Allen and the victim’s consensual sex partners as the source. Other undisclosed documents show that police relied on this serology evidence to exclude other suspects until they coerced the confession from Allen. The prosecution also failed to turn over fingerprint evidence excluding Allen, a drawing that Allen was asked to draw of the victim’s apartment that did not match her apartment and evidence that a witness who was called to verify a small detail from Allen’s statement was forced to undergo dubious hypnosis therapy in order to recall the incident.
“This case raises serious concerns about other misconduct that may have occurred at the hands of Detective Riley and Joseph Crow,” said Laura O’Sullivan, Legal Director of the Midwest Innocence Project. “The only way to restore public confidence in the criminal justice system is for the state to order an independent review of all of the cases where these two actors were involved.”
Allen, who served more than 30 years for the crime, narrowly escaped receiving the death penalty. After the jury issued the guilty verdict but before the sentencing hearing could begin, one of the jurors had a family emergency that required the juror to be dismissed. As a result, the sentencing could not be held and the state was forced to waive the death penalty.
“It’s sobering to think what might have happened if Mr. Allen had received a death sentence,” said Olga Akselrod, staff attorney with the Innocence Project. “It took years and multiple rounds of DNA testing to finally get to the bottom of this case. That’s time Mr. Allen wouldn’t have had if he had received a death sentence.”
The prospect of a delay in Mr. Allen’s release raised the strong possibility that he would spend another Thanksgiving and holiday season in prison. “We are particularly grateful to Judge Green for making it possible for George to be with his mother for his first Thanksgiving and Christmas in over 30 years,” said Tim O’Connell, a lawyer with Bryan Cave.
Allen’s release follows several other high profile cases involving false confessions of young African American men. Just last year, DNA evidence proved the innocence of nine Chicago men in two separate cases where the police coerced confessions. The false confessions of the five men wrongly convicted of raping the Central Park jogger in New York will be explored in the new Ken Burns documentary The Central Park Five, which opens on November 23, 2012. False confessions have played a role in more than 25% of the 301 DNA exonerations.
Allen is represented by Scheck and Akselrod of the Innocence Project and Gado, Harvath and O’Connell with Bryan Cave, LLP. Rosa Greenbaum of Sarasota, Florida also provided pro bono investigation assistance.