April 17, 2014

Elyria
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Woman convicted in molestation case may get new hearing

ELYRIA — Nancy Smith’s hopes of being freed from prison have long rested in the hands of the Ohio Parole Board or a longshot pardon or commutation of her sentence from Gov. Ted Strickland.

But Smith’s attorney, Jack Bradley, believes he may have found another way to get Smith, 51, back in a courtroom and give her another chance at freedom without requiring her to admit that she molested children while she was a Head Start bus driver in the 1990s.

Bradley is relying on an Ohio Supreme Court decision that regulates how sentencing entries must be written in order to be valid. In Smith’s case, former Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Lynett McGough failed to note that Smith had been convicted by a jury, a requirement, Bradley said, of the high court’s decision.

It may be enough, he hopes, to convince McGough’s successor to the bench, Judge James Burge, to hold a new sentencing hearing.

Smith

Burge, a former defense attorney, has reduced several sentences imposed by McGough that he considered too harsh over prosecutors’ objections.

Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will said from what he’s seen of the original sentencing, everything appears to be in order, but he is having his staff review Bradley’s arguments.

Smith has never admitted to any wrongdoing in the case that ended with her receiving a 30- to 90-year prison sentence after being convicted in 1994 of rape, complicity to rape and gross sexual imposition. But her refusal to admit guilt also has kept her behind bars.

One of the reasons the Ohio Parole Board gave for refusing Smith’s parole request in February 2007 was because she refused to acknowledge her wrongdoing, prompting the reviewing officer to conclude she was “in denial.”

“She is a lady of strong resolve, and she has hoped and prayed that she could get back into court without lying,” Bradley said.

The convictions of Smith and Joseph Allen, 55, the man whose home was where Smith was accused of taking the children to be raped and terrorized, were highly controversial. Allen, who is serving five consecutive life prison terms, and Smith both denied doing anything wrong.

But prosecutors and police, whom those defending Smith and Allen say railroaded the pair with testimony coerced from the alleged victims, insisted that the pair was responsible for the crimes.

Will said that while he hasn’t done a full review of the case against Smith and Allen since he was elected four years ago, any new information in the case is investigated when it’s presented to police. So far, he said, nothing has emerged to cast doubt on the convictions.

“Nothing’s ever been presented to us or nothing’s even been filed that rises to the level of reconsideration,” he said.

Amber Bronish, one of Smith’s children, said she didn’t even know Bradley had filed the motion earlier this month seeking a new sentencing hearing and isn’t certain how she feels about it.

“She won’t be found innocent unless they grant her a new trial,” she said. “It doesn’t clear her name, but I guess she can do that after she’s released.”

Bradley said he had filed the motion quietly because he didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up. But he also said if Smith gets a new sentencing hearing, there’s a good chance she will receive a definite sentence.

“She would be facing a lot of time, but she wouldn’t be facing an indefinite sentence,” he said. “With credit for time served, she could be out or nearly done.”

Bradley also said he doesn’t hold much hope in the Parole Board releasing Smith when her next hearing comes around in June 2009 because he doesn’t believe she will ever admit to doing something she isn’t guilty of, even if it gets her out of prison.

Bradley said he didn’t know if the sentencing entry in Allen’s case had the same problem as the one that sent Smith to prison. Allen’s attorney did not return a call seeking comment Friday. Allen isn’t eligible for parole until 2056.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.