Sunday, January 30, 2011

Wrongly convicted Smith and Allen deserve to stay free

The following editorial was published by the (Loraine, Ohio) Morning Journal on January 30, 2011.

Some how, some way, justice needs to be done to keep Nancy Smith and Joseph Allen free from prison.

The 1994 jury trial that convicted them in the alleged molestation of several children from a Lorain Head Start program was a travesty of justice.

Those who have studied the case in the years since the conviction are convinced they are innocent. The jury in 1994 was not permitted to see certain information that could have prevented the convictions.

As Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge put it in 2009, “The court has absolutely no confidence that these verdicts are correct.”

However, the Ohio Supreme Court was correct to rule last week that Burge overstepped his authority by acquitting Smith and Allen in 2009 after a paperwork error in their original sentencings sent the case to him to be corrected. The justices were not looking at the question of whether Smith and Allen were guilty, only whether Burge had the authority to change the verdict in their case.

The high court said Burge should only have corrected the minor sentencing error, not used it as an opening to overturn the 1994 convictions.

If the Supreme Court hadn’t ruled as it did, prosecutors and courts across the state could be overwhelmed by thousands of inmates seeking unwarranted resentencing hearings because of minor clerical errors. That’s why Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will, former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray and the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association fought so hard to overturn Burge’s ruling.

That being said, it would be a grave miscarriage of justice to send Smith and Allen back to prison. The stain of their wrongful conviction in 1994 still tarnishes Lorain County.

Although Will wasn’t responsible for the original prosecution of the Head Start case, he and his office are stuck with the consequences now. Justice must be served today by undoing past injustices. Too many questions have been raised to go unaddressed.

Nancy Smith and Joseph Allen deserve to live their lives as free citizens in the company of their families and loved ones.

A pardon by the governor would fall short of declaring them innocent, but it would keep them free. That seems to be the best they can expect, given the failures of the legal system to provide the true justice they deserve. Gov. John Kasich should take a look.

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