November 26, 2014

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Burge tosses convictions in Head Start case

Lorain County Common Pleas Court Judge James Burge today made a stunning decision: He tossed out the cases of convicted Head Start bus driver Nancy Smith and Joseph Allen.

The pair, whose convictions have been questioned over the years as they sat in prison with little of hope of release, have been freed since Burge agreed with their lawyers that there was a problem with their sentencings and agreed to re-sentence them.

But instead, today he simply tossed the cases — a Rule 29, in legalese –which means he determined that prosecutors didn’t present enough evidence at trial to convict them.

The sparsely attended hearing — at which Smith and Allen were present — erupted when Burge announced he was acquitting them of all of the charges.

Smith and Allen were convicted of sexually assaulting children who were Head Start students. Smith was accused of driving children to Allen’s home, where the abuse allegedly occurred.

For more on this breaking story, check out The Chronicle’s Thursday edition.

Read More

Woman convicted in molestation case may get new hearing

Nancy Smith freed

Nancy Smith afraid of losing freedom again

Prosecutors appeal judge’s order in Smith case

Joseph Allen Freed

Court greenlights Smith resentencing

Appeals judge upholds Joseph Allen’s release



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  • A History of The Head Start Case

    May 1993

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    The first allegations of sexual misconduct are reported to Lorain police, launching an investigation that spans months and draws massive publicity.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    Nov. 10, 1993

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    Head Start bus driver Nancy Smith is indicted on charges of gross sexual imposition, attempted rape, rape and complicity to rape. She is accused of taking four and five year old children on her bus route to the Lorain home of Joseph Allen, where the pair allegedly molest them. Allen is indicted on compelling prostitution, rape and felonious sexual penetration charges.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    May 11, 1994

    Smith indicted on an additional gross sexual imposition charge. Allen indicted on additional charges of compelling prostitution, rape and gross sexual imposition.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    July 25, 1994

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    Smith attorneys make a motion for separate trials for her and Allen, claiming Allen’s prior criminal record will keep Smith from receiving a fair trial. Then-Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Lynett McGough rejects the request.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    Aug. 3, 1994

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    Smith and Allen convicted of the charges against them on the 9th day of their jury trial. McGough sentences Smith to 30-to-90 years in prison. Allen receives five consecutive life sentences.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    July 17, 1996

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    Lawsuit filed against Lorain County Community Action Agency by the victims in the case.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    Jan. 25, 1996

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    Smith’s conviction upheld by the 9th District, OSC later declines to hear the case.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    Jan. 24, 1997

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    A second lawsuit is filed against LCCAA, but it is merged with the initial lawsuit.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    Aug. 27, 1997

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    Allen’s conviction is upheld by the 9th District Court of Appeals. The Ohio Supreme Court later declines to hear the case.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    Jan. 28, 1998

    Smith’s conviction is again upheld by the 9th District.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    May 11, 1998

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    Chronicle-Telegram columnist Paul Facinelli, who had covered the Smith case extensively, sues then-Chief Assistant County Prosecutor Jon Rosenbaum.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    May 12, 1998

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    Facinelli fired from The Chronicle over the lawsuit.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    June 4, 2003

    Judgment entered for plaintiffs against LCCAA in the civil lawsuit. The victims were awarded $1.5 million each.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    July 16, 2003

    Smith’s attempt to reopen her appeals case rejected by the 9th District.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    Feb. 12, 2005

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    The Head Start case is the subject of an episode of the Discovery Channel series “Guilty or Innocent?”

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    Feb. 20, 2007

    The Ohio Parole Board declines to grant Smith parole at her first hearing, saying that Smith is in “denial” because she won’t admit that she’s guilty of the charges she was convicted of.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    Oct. 1, 2008

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    Smith’s attorney, Jack Bradley, challenges the sentencing entry that sent Smith to prison on technical grounds and asks for a new sentencing hearing. Prosecutors later counter that the error is typographical – Judge Lynett McGough failed to note that Smith had been convicted by a jury – and can be corrected with a new entry.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    Feb. 4, 2009

    Smith is released from the county jail after county Common Pleas Judge James Burge finds that Smith is entitled to a new sentencing hearing because of a technical problem with the original hearing. He sets bond at $200,000 and Smith is freed about two hours later after a childhood friend puts up three pieces of property as collateral for her bond.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    Feb. 7, 2009

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    Smith tells The Chronicle-Telegram that she is afraid of being returned to prison.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    Feb. 12, 2009

    Prosecutors appeal Burge’s decision to resentence Smith to the 9th District Court of Appeals

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    April 14, 2009

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    Burge rules that he can resentence Allen and orders him freed on bond, which his family posts later that day. Prosecutors also appeal Burge’s decision in Allen’s case.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    May 11, 2009

    The 9th District Court of Appeals dismisses the appeal of Burge’s decision, saying it cannot review the judge’s decision until Smith is resentenced.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    June 10, 2009

    The appeals court dismisses the appeal in Allen’s case on the same grounds as in the Smith case.

  • A History of The Head Start Case

    June 24, 2009

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    Saying he wasn’t convinced Smith and Allen were guilty after an extensive review of the case, Burge acquits them both.

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