September 1, 2014

Elyria
Intermittent clouds
80°F
test

Lorain police station picketed over role in Head Start case

LORAIN — On Friday, a dozen supporters of Nancy Smith and Joseph Allen picketed the Lorain Police Department, which investigated the controversial 1994 Head Start molestation case.

Every few minutes, passing motorists honked in apparent support as protesters held signs such as “Freedom for Nancy” and “Justice for Smith and Allen.”

Kavi Tsirikos, who is Nancy Smith’s niece, said it would be a tragedy if the pair is ordered back to jail after a judge acquitted them in 2009, saying he had “no confidence” in the original verdict.

“My aunt is an awesome person,” Tsirikos said. “She was a victim.”

Smith, 53, and Allen, 57, did not attend the protest, but other relatives and friends braved the cold to make their feelings known. Allen’s niece Cassandra Allen said her uncle is upset about the prospect he could be ordered back to prison but is trying to stay strong.

“He knows he’s innocent,” she said. “That gives him an inner peace.”

Courtney Smith, one of Nancy Smith’s daughters, said she hopes the Ohio Supreme Court will reconsider its ruling last month throwing out her mother’s acquittal.

She said she hopes that one of the accusers who were 4 and 5 at the time will come forward to say they were never molested.

But she said monetary awards in the civil case filed by some of the children’s parents could be standing in the way.

Meanwhile, Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo said the prosecutor’s office had not yet received notice of any new decision from the Ohio Supreme Court.

After a high-profile trial, a jury convicted the pair and Smith was sentenced by former Common Pleas Judge Lynett McGough to 30 to 90 years in prison, while Allen was sentenced to five consecutive life terms.

A technicality prompted McGough’s successor, Common Pleas Judge James Burge, to hold new sentencing hearings, and Burge acquitted both Smith and Allen in 2009.

Prosecutors appealed, and the Ohio Supreme Court late last month overturned Burge’s decision to acquit Smith. The justices sided with prosecutors, saying that Burge didn’t have the authority to hold new sentencing hearings or acquit Smith and Allen. Instead, they wrote, a corrected sentencing entry was the proper means to fix the problem.

The high court’s decision didn’t specifically address Allen, leaving in place an earlier decision by the 9th District Court of Appeals which reversed Burge’s decision to acquit Allen.

The difference, the appeals court wrote in its decision, was that after the 1994 trial, Bradley asked McGough to set aside the guilty verdicts. Allen’s trial, Joe Grunda, made no such motion.

On Tuesday, Burge declined to send Smith back to prison, deciding instead to continue the hearing to resolve issues involving the orders from the Ohio Supreme Court.

Smith was convicted of taking children on her Head Start bus route to Allen’s home, where the children testified they were sexually abused.

Supporters of Smith and Allen said the story was not believable because Allen lived in a public housing complex in the heart of Lorain and no one reported seeing a school bus in the area.

One of those at Friday’s protest, Zachary Long, said he was disturbed to see a video of Allen’s police lineup because it appears that Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera guided a child’s finger to point out Allen.

Supporters said that video can be seen on the Nancy Smith Freedom page on Facebook. The page showed more than 600 friends Friday.

Rivera was dealing with a family crisis and was unavailable for comment, according to his secretary.

Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or cleise@chroniclet.com.