Today in Innocence

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Another head-scratching case in which prosecutors—in this case the Missouri Attorney General’s Office—are fighting an exoneration:

There was no dispute in court Friday in Jefferson City that favorable evidence was improperly withheld from George Allen’s defense in a St. Louis murder trial almost three decades ago.

What stands between Allen, 56, and freedom is the question of whether that evidence exonerates him or is likely to have swayed the jury that convicted him.

On that, there was no agreement in the daylong hearing.

Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green, in charge of the case now, said he would decide later in what are two options: exonerating him with the possibility of a retrial, or leaving him in prison to finish his 95-year term.

Among the evidence casting doubt on Allen’s guilt:

  • A coerced confession from a schizophrenic suspect. Even after the confession, the suspect continued to give police incorrect information about the crime. One of the detectives who conducted the questioning now concedes the interrogation was not consistent with department policy.
  • Allen also confessed to a number of other rapes he couldn’t possibly have committed.
  • A jailhouse informant says he was coerced by police to claim Allen had confessed to him in a jail cell.
  • An admission from the same detective above that investigators weren’t certain of Allen’s guilt.
  • Three fingerprints at the crime scene that were never analyzed.
  • In Allen’s first trial, the jury deadlocked 10-2, with the 10 voting to acquit.

But here’s the most convincing part:

[Defense attorneys] also focused heavily on a written report by a St. Louis police crime lab technician, Joseph Crow, in which there were crossed-out references to analysis of the crumpled, bloody robe found near Bell’s naked body. The blood type from semen on it did not match hers, her live-in boyfriend’s or Allen’s. A typed report presented to prosecutors, and used at trial, did not make reference to those findings.

Scheck pointed out that a police report, which never went beyond lead detective Herb Riley, showed police had been looking for a suspect with the same blood type as found on the robe.

“The defense should have had this,” he said. “That’s a powerful argument they never got to make.”

Assistant Missouri Attorney General Michael Spillane said the semen wasn’t relevant because, “This was not truly a forensics case. It was a confession case.”

Well yeah. Of course it wasn’t a forensics case. It wasn’t a forensics case because the forensic evidence was improperly kept from Allen’s attorneys. If it had been a forensics case, the forensic evidence would have excluded Allen, and he would never have been arrested, much less charged, convicted, and imprisoned. (Serology is a poor way to pin a crime on someone to the exclusion of everyone else. It’s much stronger evidence when used to exclude someone.)

This was an “arrest a mentally disabled guy walking in the area of the crime because he looks vaguely like a sex offender, then coerce a confession out of him” case. But that probably doesn’t sound very convincing in a courtroom.

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12 Responses to “Today in Innocence”

  1. #1 |  The Late Andy Rooney | 

    How is it that confessions are still admissable in court, given that it is so easy to get an innocent person to confess to a crime he didn’t commit?

  2. #2 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    Is it just me, or is “Joseph Crow” a really bad name for someone in law enforcement?

  3. #3 |  Jim Wetzel | 

    Obviously, the whole thing’s made up:

    Assistant Missouri Attorney General Michael Spillane said …

    Mickey Spillane? Really? Really? Naw … no way. Add Stormy Dragon’s “Joseph Crow,” and it’s case closed.

  4. #4 |  Bill | 

    “The blood type from semen on it did not match hers, her live-in boyfriend’s or Allen’s.”

    Somehow, the first of those is not surprising to me.

  5. #5 |  David | 

    #3: I have actually known a Michael Spillane in real life. He was in government, too.

  6. #6 |  Bill Poser | 

    “How is it that confessions are still admissable in court…?”

    A good question. Indeed, in Jewish law, a confession is not sufficient evidence for conviction.

  7. #7 |  CyniCAl | 

    “This was an “arrest a mentally disabled guy walking in the area of the crime because he looks vaguely like a sex offender, then coerce a confession out of him” case. But that probably doesn’t sound very convincing in a courtroom.”

    Seems to work pretty well in the South. Who knows what, if anything, goes through Southerners’ minds.

  8. #8 |  Chuck U Farley | 

    A criminal always returns to the scene of the crime

  9. #9 |  bacchys | 

    I like how the judge reminded the prosecutor that the state had a different view about the forensic evidence in their closing argument:

    “At that, Green reminded him of the prosecutor’s closing arguments at trial about forensic evidence. The judge said the case prosecutor, Dean Hoag, noted that if Allen had been excluded as the source of the semen, ‘We wouldn’t be here. We’d know he couldn’t have.’”

  10. #10 |  daveP | 

    “bout 15yrs ago in PIMA cty AZ, I was arrested on 4 counts of agg assault for defending myself in my home against a drunken violent intruder. 12 out of 13 involved sheriffs deputies lied under oath in their reports, to a JP, to a grand jury and on the stand. LE are filth and should never be obeyed. They are nothing but dangerous targets.

  11. #11 |  Steve Verdon | 

    A least the guy spent decades in jail on false charges. Thomas Kelly was beat to death by two Fullerton cops.

    When the cops are as bad or worse than criminals…why do we still have cops?

  12. #12 |  Steve Verdon | 

    Sorry, Kelly Thomas…I always get that backwards….

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