A Missouri judge has thrown out the 1983 rape and murder convictions of a St. Louis-area man who case was taken up by nonprofit group that specializes in using DNA evidence to overturn wrongful convictions.
Cole County Circuit Judge Dan Green on Friday ordered 56-year-old George Allen Jr. released from prison within 10 days unless the St. Louis circuit attorney decides to retry him. That office was closed Friday night, but Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce worked with the Innocence Project on the DNA testing.
The judge's written findings of fact in the case were not available Friday night.
Allen, a diagnosed schizophrenic who is 29 years into a 95-year sentence, was accused of raping and killing 31-year-old Mary Bell after breaking into her St. Louis home. The crime occurred about 10 miles from Allen's University City home during a historic snowstorm on Feb. 4, 1982.
Lawyers with The Innocence Project took up Allen's case in 2010, arguing that police coached Allen into confessing. They said Allen was cleared by the results of DNA tests not available in the early 1980s and other forensic evidence not shared with Allen's trial lawyers.
Allen was arrested about a month after Bell's murder, when officers mistook him for a convicted sex offender who police had suspected and took him in for questioning. Police said he confessed, and 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 that 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, according to 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 told the Associated Press in an interview last year.
Along with filing a petition for habeus corpus on Allen's behalf, attorneys asked Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to review the new information. But Koster said in a filing earlier this year that the new evidence was not enough to prove Allen's innocence.
Allen's supporters had argued 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, said last year he was home with her when Bell was killed.
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.
The Innocence Project also said it unearthed 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.