Convictions tossed, Missouri inmate gains freedom
By ALAN SCHER ZAGIER
The Associated Press
An inmate imprisoned nearly three decades for a rape and murder conviction walked free Wednesday after a judge ruled that St. Louis police hid or destroyed evidence while misleading the mentally ill man into a false confession.
Wearing loose, donated clothes and appearing frail, George Allen Jr., 56, grinned as he hugged friends, family and supporters after a brief hearing before Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green.
“I have spent 30 years in prison as an innocent man, but I never gave up hope,” Allen said, reading from a prepared statement. “I knew some day the truth would come out… Thank God this nightmare has finally ended.”
Allen, who suffers from schizophrenia and was blinded in one eye during his imprisonment, served 29 years of a 95-year sentence and narrowly avoided the death penalty.
He was convicted in the February 1982 death of 31-year-old Mary Bell, who was killed in her St. Louis apartment. Three witnesses testified that Allen was 10 miles away at his mother’s home at the time of the attack, which happened during a historic blizzard that crippled the St. Louis area.
On Nov. 2, Green ordered Allen’s release in a blistering 75-page ruling that suggested St. Louis police ignored and suppressed numerous pieces of evidence. Among them were blood tests that ruled out Allen as the source of semen found on Bell’s robe, as well as fingerprints, rejected by investigators as unusable smudges, that not only excluded Allen but were used in comparison with other suspects.
There also were questions about the accuracy of testimony by Bell’s co-worker, who said she called out her friend’s name outside the victim’s apartment during the attack. Detectives sent the co-worker to a hypnotist to shore up her account, a session that wasn’t disclosed to the defense.
The undisclosed evidence was unearthed by lawyers working for and with the Innocence Project, the New York group that has helped free hundreds of wrongfully convicted inmates nationwide.
Innocence Project attorney Olga Akselrod said the group plans to request a formal review by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce of all cases handled by now-deceased St. Louis homicide detective Herb Riley and criminologist Joseph Crow, both of whom were singled out by Judge Green for questionable conduct.
The judge found that Riley steered Allen into falsely confessing after more than 40 denials. He also said Riley overlooked details provided by Allen that didn’t match the circumstances of Bell’s death. And a lab report written by Crow contained scratched-out notes describing the blood test results that eliminated Allen as a source.
Allen was arrested about a month after Bell’s attack when police mistook him for a convicted rapist whom he reportedly resembled, in part because both were African-Americans in their 20s with shaved heads. Officers who interviewed Allen — before Riley did — dismissed him as a suspect.
On Wednesday, Joyce reiterated her earlier comments that she asked the St. Louis police chief and the city’s public safety director to review policies and procedures.Allen’s release is not the end of his legal process. The Missouri attorney general’s office is appealing Green’s ruling.