Innocence Project: DNA shows wrongful conviction

By JIM SALTER

Associated Press

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Innocence Project attorneys cited DNA and other evidence Monday in asking a judge to free a man who has spent nearly three decades in prison for breaking into a St. Louis woman’s home and raping and killing her.

George Allen Jr. was sentenced to 95 years in prison in the death of Mary Bell, 31, who was killed inside her home during one of the largest snowstorms in St. Louis history — some 20 inches fell during the storm on Feb. 4, 1982.

Allen, now 55, was arrested about a month later when police mistook him for another man and took him in for questioning. Police said he confessed. Lab tests done then could not exclude Allen as the source of semen found on Bell’s robe.

But police and lab documents that weren’t disclosed at trial showed police found semen samples from two different men on the robe, and more sophisticated DNA tests completed last year ruled out Allen as the source of either, said Olga Akselrod, an attorney for the New York-based Innocence Project.

“What we’ve documented is powerful proof that George Allen did not commit this crime,” Akselrod said.

Along with filing a petition on Allen’s behalf in Jefferson City court, attorneys asked Attorney General Chris Koster to review the new information and take measures on his behalf. A message left with Koster’s spokeswoman was not returned.

Attorneys also found other faults in the case against Allen, a diagnosed schizophrenic who lived with his mother in University City, about 10 miles from Bell’s home. Allen’s supporters said it would have been impossible for him to walk 10 miles in a blinding snowstorm to a stranger’s home, then rape and kill her.

Allen’s mother, Lonzetta Taylor, now 80, said he was home with her when Bell was killed.

“It’s been 30 long years,” she said. “We have lost so much time together. I always knew the truth would come out.”

Ameer Gado, an attorney for the Bryan Cave firm in St. Louis that is working with the Innocence Project on the case, said people with mental illnesses, like Allen, are particularly vulnerable to false confessions. Of 273 exonerations nationally tied to DNA evidence, about a quarter involved false confessions, Gado said.

Allen said in the recorded confession that he was under the influence of alcohol. Akselrod said the interrogating officer often prompted Allen to give answers to fit the crime, even asking Allen at times to change his answers.

Akselrod also cited newly discovered documents showing police had evidence that the attacker had a blood type inconsistent with Allen’s but failed to tell prosecutors or defense attorneys.

Allen’s original trial ended in a hung jury. He was convicted in a second trial in 1983. While in prison, he was blinded in one eye by another inmate, said Tom Block, an activist and prison lay minister who first contacted the Innocence Project about Allen.

The St. Louis circuit attorney’s office prosecuted the case. The original prosecutor, Dean Hoag, still believes Allen committed the crime. The current circuit attorney, Jennifer Joyce, worked with the Innocence Project on the DNA testing, but a spokeswoman said Joyce believes the new evidence neither confirms Allen’s involvement in the crime, nor exonerates him.

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