December 20, 2014

Elyria
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Joseph Allen cuts a deal for reduced prison sentence

ELYRIA — A sobbing Joseph Allen was led out of a Lorain County courtroom in handcuffs Tuesday after being ordered back to prison in the controversial Head Start child molestation case.

The return to prison came after Allen, 60, agreed to a deal with prosecutors that saw him receive a new sentence of 10 to 25 years in prison with credit for time served.

Attorney K. Ronald Bailey comforts a weeping Joseph Allen as a deputy gets set to handcuff Allen and return him to prison Tuesday. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

Attorney K. Ronald Bailey comforts a weeping Joseph Allen as a deputy gets set to handcuff Allen and return him to prison Tuesday. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

“Although it isn’t everything we’d hoped for, it is certainly a lot better than what was previously imposed,” Allen’s defense attorney, K. Ronald Bailey, said.

Allen was originally sentenced to multiple consecutive life prison terms and had served roughly 15 years before he was released, along with co-defendant Nancy Smith, by county Common Pleas Judge James Burge in 2009 because their original 1994 sentencing entries failed to note they had been convicted by a jury.

Burge ultimately acquitted Smith and Allen, who have long maintained their innocence and denied knowing each other, after concluding that he had “no confidence” in the guilty verdicts handed down by the jury. The acquittals were later overturned on appeal, although Burge never ordered the pair returned to prison.

Smith cut a deal with prosecutors in June that saw her avoid going back to prison by acknowledging the jury’s findings and accepting reduced charges in exchange for a sentence of 12 years in prison, less time that the nearly 15 years she actually spent behind bars. She had originally been sentenced to 30 to 90 years in prison.

Allen’s convictions on gross sexual imposition, three counts of felonious sexual penetration and four counts of rape were only slightly modified as part of the agreement to allow for the reduced prison sentence.

Burge, who championed Allen and Smith’s innocence even before he removed himself from the case earlier this year, said he had hoped for a different result from Tuesday’s hearing.

“I am sure there are worse days in the history of the criminal justice system, I just can’t think of when that would have been,” Burge said.

Under the terms of the agreement, Allen will be required to register as a habitual sexual offender for 10 years after he is released from prison, a condition not imposed on Smith. Under the laws in effect at the time, only sex offenders with previous convictions were required to register.

Allen, like Smith, also agreed not to pursue further legal efforts to overturn his conviction and not to sue over the case.

Unlike at Smith’s hearing in June when the courtroom was packed with supporters and media, Allen was accompanied to court by only a handful of family and friends. They offered comforting words to Allen before he left the courtroom in the custody of deputies.

Family friend Jerry Jones called the agreement a “travesty” that had put Allen in the impossible position of choosing between a long prison term and a longer prison term.

“Give a man a choice between 200 years and 10 to 25? What kind of stuff is that?” Jones said. “Ain’t the man went through enough with 15 years for something he didn’t do?”

But prosecutors argued that Smith and Allen’s circumstances were different. Smith didn’t have a criminal record when she was convicted of the charges she took 4- and 5-year-old students to Allen’s home to be molested.

Allen does have a criminal record, including a 1985 sexual battery conviction in a case that centered on accusations he molested two 7-year-old girls, Assistant County Prosecutor Tony Cillo wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

Allen also was convicted of murder for killing 72-year-old Ruth Greaney with a hammer in 1975 at the Boston apartment building where he worked as a handyman, Cillo wrote.

Court documents indicate that although Allen originally confessed to the murder, he later tried to shift blame for the killing to one of his brothers. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts later threw out the murder conviction because a lie detector test Allen took was improperly used in the trial. Allen was never retried in the murder case, Cillo wrote.

There also were several accusations of improper sexual conduct by Allen in the 1990s in LorainCounty, although Cillo wrote that Allen was never prosecuted in connection with those allegations.

allen-plea-2County Prosecutor Dennis Will said he worked with attorneys representing Smith and Allen to arrive at a just resolution in each case.

“We tried to arrive at a conclusion that was fair for everyone involved and still protected the public,” Will said.

Will said he wouldn’t have accepted a lesser sentence for Allen and doesn’t believe Visiting Judge Virgil Lee Sinclair Jr., who took over the case from Burge, would have either.

The deal comes on the same day that the Ohio Parole Board made public its recommendation that Gov. John Kasich reject Allen’s application for executive clemency.

The Parole Board made the same recommendation in August about Smith’s bid for a pardon, which was based in part on an expert’s review that said the testimony of the victims was tainted by their parents, media coverage of the case and suggestive interview techniques used by investigators.

Burge also made an emotional plea during a January Parole Board hearing for Smith to receive a full pardon.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the governor has not taken any action on Smith’s clemency request.

Allen’s clemency application was based on much of the same information Smith used in hers, however he never appeared before the Parole Board in Columbus to argue his case.

But Allen may find himself in front of the Parole Board soon.

JoEllen Smith, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, said that because of the time Allen has already spent behind bars, he will immediately be eligible for parole.

That’s no guarantee that he will be released. When Smith first went before the Parole Board seeking a release in 2007, she was rejected because she refused to admit she was guilty, prompting the Parole Board to conclude she was in “denial.”

Will said he couldn’t say exactly how he would respond to a parole request from Allen. But he said if Allen is released there would need to be some form of monitoring.

“Clearly one of my biggest concerns was supervision of him,” Will said.

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