ELYRIA – Joseph Allen swept his arms wide and high Tuesday as he walked into the lobby of the Lorain County Jail – a free man after more than 15 years behind bars on child molestation charges.
“Hallelujah,” Allen said before embracing waiting family members.
After registering as a sex offender, he walked out into the afternoon drizzle.
Allen, 55, was released on a $100,000 bond a day after Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge threw out the five consecutive life sentences Allen was sentenced to in 1994 after being convicted of molesting several children who rode a Head Start bus to school.
His brother, Willie Allen, said the family scraped together the money to pay a bail bondsman by draining their bank accounts and collecting donations.
Nancy Smith, the bus driver accused of taking the children to Allen’s Lorain home, where police said they were molested, was freed in February after Burge threw out her 30- to 90-year prison sentence on the same technicality that brought Allen’s freedom Tuesday.
Smith and Allen both have maintained that they did not know each other and are innocent of the controversial charges for which they were convicted.
“I was wrongfully accused and incarcerated for over 15 years,” Allen said before leaving the jail.
During an interview later Tuesday at the Lorain home of his brother, Joseph Allen said he never lost faith that God would someday set him free.
“I had God before I went to prison, and I had him when I walked out of prison,” he said.
That faith, he said, kept him from feeling anger during his time in prison, which he described as “up and down like a roller coaster.”
Allen said now that he’s free, his top priority is to go to church to thank God and those who have supported him over the years.
Allen said God won’t allow him to hold a grudge against those who worked to put him behind bars and to keep him there.
“When God came into my heart many, many years ago, I never was the same,” he said. “He made me strong, even when I’m facing things that are out of control.”
With relatives crowded into his brother’s house for a family meal, Allen said he plans to fight to clear his name.
His attorney, K. Ronald Bailey, said he plans to ask Burge for a new trial. Regardless, a new sentencing hearing will open Allen’s case up to a fresh review by an appeals court.
Allen and Smith both lost their first round of appeals.
Allen rejected claims by Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will’s office that he is a flight risk, even though the charges he’s convicted of carry mandatory life terms.
“If you ain’t done nothing, why would you be a flight risk?” Allen said. “I’m not going nowhere. I want to clear myself.”
Allen said much has changed in the county – Lorain “looks like a whole new city to me” – since Nov. 3, 1993, the day he was arrested and the last time he was free. Unlike Smith, Allen didn’t post bond before the trial.
“I never thought I would see such a place like that again,” Allen said about his return to a Lorain County courtroom on Monday.
He said he didn’t realize he even had a bond until he spoke to a corrections officer Tuesday morning.
But his freedom may not last.
Prosecutors already are appealing Burge’s decision to resentence Smith, who – even if she receives the minimum sentence of five to 25 years – would have to return to prison.
If Burge does hold a resentencing hearing and won’t order a new trial, Allen knows he’ll have to return to prison to resume serving life sentences.
He said he’s not worried.
“(You) keep on trusting God no matter what situation you’re in,” he said.