Citing New DNA and Other Evidence, the Innocence Project Asks Missouri Court to Overturn George Allen’s Conviction and to Free Him from Prison
Contact: Paul Cates, 212-364-5346, firstname.lastname@example.org
Julie Brueggemann, 314-259-2733, email@example.com
(ST. LOUIS, MO. – September 26, 2011) In papers filed in a Missouri Court today, the Innocence Project, in collaboration with the St. Louis law firm, Bryan Cave LLP, presents compelling evidence establishing that a St. Louis man, George Allen, Jr., is innocent of the 1982 murder and rape for which he has served more than 29 years in prison. As proof of his innocence, the papers cite new DNA evidence, a recently uncovered serology report that was never turned over to the prosecution or defense and the discovery that a key prosecution witness gave hypnotically-enhanced testimony against Allen at trial. Attorneys are asking the court to overturn Allen’s conviction and to free him from prison.
“This appears to be an example of law enforcement ‘tunnel vision’ at its worst,” said Barry Scheck, Co –Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “Police arrested Mr. Allen thinking he is someone else, interrogated him anyway, knowing all the time that he was profoundly mentally ill and then withheld critical evidence that might have set him free.”
After a first trial that ended in a deadlocked jury in favor of acquittal, Allen was convicted following a second trial on July 23, 1983, of the capital murder, rape, sodomy and burglary of Mary Bell. Allen barely escaped the death penalty when a juror had to be excused before deliberations on the sentencing phase of the trial. He was instead sentenced to 95 years in prison for which he has now served 29 years. Bell, a court reporter who had worked in the same St. Louis Circuit Court courthouse where Allen was convicted, was murdered in her LaSalle Park home on the morning of February 4, 1982, during what was one of the heaviest snowstorms in St. Louis’ history. Allen lived 10 miles away in University City.
Police investigating the case were looking to question a known sex offender whose brother lived in the same apartment complex as Bell. On March 14, 1982, the police picked up Allen several blocks from the victim’s house, mistakenly thinking he was the sex offender. Although police eventually realized their mistake, they 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. On the recording itself, Allen informs the officers that he is under the influence of alcohol, and throughout the interrogation the officer prompts Allen to give him answers to fit the crime, often asking Allen to change his answer to do so.
At trial, the prosecution relied heavily on the confession and serological semen evidence that they claimed corroborated that confession. A police lab analyst testified that the only antigens recovered from seminal fluid at the scene were A and H antigens, which could not exclude Allen as the source of the semen. The prosecution emphasized this in its closing argument. If Allen had been excluded as the source of the semen, “[w]e wouldn’t be here. We’d know that he couldn’t have. But it’s consistent.” There was no other physical evidence linking Allen to the crime scene. DNA evidence has now proven that Allen was not the source of the semen attributed to him at trial.
Moreover, newly discovered police and lab documents that were not disclosed to the prosecution or defense now show that police actually found semen samples from two different men on the robe the victim was wearing when she was attacked. Although one of the donors had a blood type consistent with Allen, the victim’s then-boyfriend and her estranged husband (DNA has now shown it was from the victim’s boyfriend, not Allen), the other semen donor had B antigens in his semen. As a “non-secretor,” Allen could not have been the semen donor because he does not secrete any antigens into his semen. The B antigens also exclude the victim’s boyfriend and the victim’s husband.
The presence of a semen sample excluding Allen and matching someone other than the victim’s consensual sex partners is strong proof that someone other than Allen committed the crime. In fact, newly discovered documents show that prior to arresting Allen, police were collecting samples from suspects to determine their blood type because they believed the perpetrator was someone whose semen contained B antigens. This evidence was clearly harmful to the state’s case against Mr. Allen, and police never revealed it to the prosecution or the defense. At some point, someone with access to the lab documents actually scribbled through exculpatory portions of laboratory reports, but fortunately the writing is still legible.
“We are grateful to Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce, whose office has worked with us for several years in a joint investigation of Mr. Allen’s case and consented to the DNA testing,” said Olga Akselrod, Innocence Project Staff Attorney. “This DNA testing coupled with what we now know about the serology evidence proves that Mr. Allen is innocent of the crime.”
Under Missouri habeas corpus procedures, the Missouri Attorney General is responsible for responding to the petition. The Circuit Attorney has declined to take a position on the merits of the petition, leaving the matter with the Attorney General. “It is our understanding that the original prosecutor, Dean Hoag, still believes that Mr. Allen is responsible for this crime,” added Ms. Akselrod. “However, we are grateful that Mr. Hoag has been so forthcoming about the fact that he did not have the exculpatory evidence when the case was tried.”
Allen’s DNA was not found on any of the remaining crime evidence. DNA testing did not recover a profile for the semen donor with B antigens, likely because the entire semen sample was consumed by the serology testing. However, testing did uncover an unidentified male DNA profile on a towel in which the murder weapon was wrapped. This DNA could not have come from Mr. Allen, and it also excludes the victim’s boyfriend and husband.
Attorneys also have uncovered new evidence that police and prosecutors influenced the testimony of a critical prosecution witness, who was called to corroborate a small but significant detail from Allen’s confession. In the so-called confession, Allen told the police that during the attack someone called out the victim’s first name, Mary. At trial, prosecutors called a friend and co-worker who had been to the victim’s apartment at around the time of the murder to testify that she was at the apartment and called out Mary’s name after knocking on her door. The witness has now come forward to say that she doesn’t remember whether or not she actually called out the victim’s name. This is consistent with what she initially told the police. Additionally, Richardson now admits that she was asked by police to undergo hypnosis to help her remember that she called out the name. That she was forced to undergo this highly suggestive practice to get her to “remember” this detail was also never disclosed to the prosecution or the defense.
“False confessions have played a role in 25 percent of the 273 DNA exonerations. People with mental illness, such as Mr. Allen, are particularly vulnerable to making a false confession,” said Ameer Gado, one of Allen’s attorneys with Bryan Cave LLP. “Mr. Allen has already lost 29 years of his life, but we are hopeful that the state will acknowledge the unimaginable injustice we have uncovered and join us in our efforts to free him,” added Dan Harvath, Allen’s other Bryan Cave attorney.
At trial, Allen’s mother, sister and his sister’s boyfriend all testified that Allen was at home at the time of the murder. Because of the record snowfall that week, it was very difficult to travel. The witnesses testified that early in the morning on February 4, 1982, Allen helped to push his sister’s car out of the snow and never left the house after that. Defense attorneys argued that it would have been impossible for Allen, who didn’t have access to a car, to have traveled the approximately 10 miles from his home to the victim’s apartment to commit the crime. But these arguments were unpersuasive in the face of the coerced confession and what is now known to be highly misleading serology evidence.
“I have been waiting a very long time for justice for my son,” said Allen’s mother, Lonzetta Taylor. “I know that nothing can replace the many years that he has lost, but it is my greatest wish that I see the day when he walks out of prison.” Download the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus that was filed today in the Circuit Court of Cole County
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The Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustices.