Judge overturns conviction in 1982 St. Louis rape-murder
ST. LOUIS, Nov 03, 2012 (Menafn - St. Louis Post-Dispatch - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --Almost 30 years after George Allen was sentenced to 95 years in prison for the rape-murder of a woman in her St. Louis home, a judge has reversed the convictions, saying police withheld critical evidence favoring his innocence.
In a 75-page ruling late Friday, Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green voided Allen's convictions for murder, rape, sodomy and first-degree burglary in the killing of Mary Bell.
The 31-year-old court reporter was slain Feb 4, 1982, in her apartment in the LaSalle Park neighborhood.
St. Louis County Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce has 10 days to decide whether to refile charges as a fresh case. If she declines, Allen, 56, will be released. The Missouri attorney general's office could at any point appeal the ruling, but it would have to meet a high standard.
"Oh, thank the Lord. I am so overjoyed. Oh, God," exclaimed Allen's mother, Lonzetta Taylor, 80, of University City, upon hearing the news from a reporter.
Green, in his ruling, said Allen's rights to due process were violated because police, and in particular lead detective Herb Riley, failed to disclose to prosecutors evidence favorable to the defense. The prosecution would have been obligated to share it.
"The undisclosed evidence, considered together, points unavoidably to the conclusion that the police -- and Detective Riley in particular -- ignored and hid evidence pointing to someone else as the perpetrator in their zealous pursuit of Allen's conviction," the judge wrote.
One of Allen's lawyers, Ameer Gado, said Friday, "This shows there was a real travesty of justice in George's trial." He added, "Subject to what the prosecutor decides to do, we're thrilled that George is going to be free, after all these years, in just a matter of days."
Ed Postawko, chief warrant officer for Joyce, issued a statement Friday saying they had not yet reviewed the ruling.
"Once we have thoughtfully reviewed the 75-page opinion and discussed our options, we will make a decision on the next steps regarding this case," Postawko wrote. "Our goal in this and every case is to ensure we seek justice ... given the facts and information available to us."
In Allen's first trial, in 1983, a hung jury voted 10-2 for acquittal. A different jury convicted him three months later.
In Friday's ruling, the judge relied upon several factors:
-- Test results showed that semen found on Bell's robe could not have belonged to Allen, nor her live-in boyfriend, nor her estranged husband.
-- Internal police memos indicated that detectives knew of those results, used them to exclude other suspects, but persisted in pursuit of Allen and got him to confess.
-- A police fingerprint technician erroneously testified that seven key fingerprints "were of no value."
-- A drawing of the crime scene Allen made for police did not accurately depict the layout of Bell's apartment.
-- A key witness, whose testimony helped corroborate Allen's confession, had been hypnotized prior to making her statements.
The judge emphasized that he found "NO evidence of prosecutorial misconduct whatsoever." But he added that evidence withheld by police is still, under the law, a violation of a defendant's rights under the Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland.
"The undisclosed evidence would have provided the defense affirmative proof -- foreign semen and fingerprints that could not have come from Allen -- that someone else raped and killed Ms. Bell," Green wrote.
The judge added that the evidence would have left Allen's lawyers "with powerful weapons to attack the reliability of the confession."
Police arrested Allen, who was mentally ill, more than a month after the murder because he resembled a convicted sex offender they suspected of killing Bell.
At the police station, Allen confessed to a series of rapes of other women, which police discounted. Then Riley took over, ultimately eliciting Allen's murder confession.
Green, in his ruling, called the police interrogation "deeply flawed" and the confession "dubious," because Riley threatened Allen and fed him facts about the crime. Riley has since died.
The judge pointed out that the defense could have used the undisclosed scientific reports and internal police memos to impeach the testimony of a St. Louis crime lab technician, Joseph Crow, who told jurors that Allen could not be excluded as the source of semen on Bell's robe.
Results that were favorable to Allen had been crossed out on one of Crow's reports, and a typed version presented to prosecutors did not make reference to those findings.
"The defense could have used the crossed-out serological findings to make a strong argument that the police and the crime lab colluded to actively hide evidence that cast doubt on Allen's guilt," Green wrote.
Green also references the testimony of a fingerprint technician, Gerald Hart, who testified "presumably by mistake, but nevertheless falsely" that seven fingerprints which did not belong to police or the boyfriend "were of no value" because they did not have enough ridges to identify.
The judge points out that not only have they since been proved usable, but they were in key locations around Bell's apartment "that were highly significant to the crime," including on a window sill just a few feet from the body.
In his confession, Allen said he heard someone at Bell's door yelling "Sherry." The judge points out that Riley later got a neighbor to say she may have knocked on the door and yelled "Mary." The state did not disclose that the woman, who testified at trial, had been hypnotized.
Allen's mother said her son's lawyers -- Barry Scheck from the Innocence Project and the Bryan Cave firm in St. Louis -- helped strengthen her hopes for her son's release. Now, she said, she's more confident than ever.
She said, "I've been expecting him to come home."
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