December 27, 2012 St. Louis Post-Dispatch - A state appeals court refused on Wednesday to overturn a judge’s order that released a St. Louis man who had been imprisoned for nearly 30 years on a murder charge.
“We’re thrilled, we’re absolutely thrilled,” said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project and one of the lawyers representing George Allen.
Allen, 56, was released last month after Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green voided Allen’s convictions for murder, rape, sodomy and first-degree burglary in the killing of Mary Bell, 31.
Green faulted city police for failing to turn over evidence to prosecutors and a “deeply flawed” interrogation that led to a “dubious” confession.
“The undisclosed evidence, considered together, points unavoidably to the conclusion that the police — and Detective (Herb) Riley in particular — ignored and hid evidence pointing to someone else as the perpetrator in their zealous pursuit of Allen’s conviction,” Green wrote.
St. Louis prosecutors announced Nov. 7 that they would not retry Allen, saying that among other things, two key witnesses who might have explained the issues with Allen’s confession and the police interrogation have since died.
Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster’s office decided to appeal, however.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western Division, rejected that appeal.
Koster’s office had conceded that evidence had not been turned over, but argued that the trial turned on Allen’s confession, not other evidence.
The decision could end the case against Allen.
“As previously stated, we defer to the Western District Court of Appeals’ decision, and will not pursue further action,” said Koster spokeswoman Nanci Gonder.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce will again have to make a decision about retrying Allen.
As the court pointed out in a footnote to the 51-page opinion, “The effect of a similar announcement if made in response to this Opinion will be to permanently discharge Allen, and not merely to permit Allen’s conditional release from incarceration.”
Although Allen’s attorneys say that the newly uncovered evidence is proof of Allen’s innocence, the court noted that Green did not determine Allen’s guilt or innocence and that he is currently “a charged pretrial detainee released on his own recognizance and subject to a new trial.”
Joyce has 30 days to make her announcement. If she decides to retry Allen, the trial must be held within six months, the judges said. If she passes, Allen “will no longer be a pretrial detainee as a charged suspect in the murder of Ms. Bell, and he will be immediately relieved of the conditional terms imposed on his release from incarceration.”
A spokeswoman for Joyce said in an email that Joyce had not yet reviewed the decision.
“As stated before, at this time, the Circuit Attorney has no plans to retry Mr. Allen for this murder. If, however, new information or evidence becomes available pointing to Mr. Allen or any suspect, we will take appropriate action,” she wrote.
Allen’s attorneys declined to make him available for an interview Wednesday.
Ameer Gado, a lawyer from the Bryan Cave law firm who is also representing Allen, said that he had been “doing remarkably well” but that returning home had been an “unimaginable adjustment.”
Gado said Allen was living at home with his mother and working with Places for People, a group that helps people who have mental illness and others.
“Prison was very rough for him,” Gado said. Among the hardships was the loss of an eye in prison in a fight, he said.
Asked about compensation for Allen’s decades behind bars, Gado declined to comment. Scheck said that Allen would have to look at his options.
Scheck also called again for a reopening of the case.
Although tests of DNA were inconclusive, Scheck said, “There’s other issues in the case besides DNA. There’s quite a few other things that can be pursued now in an effort to find the person who really committed this crime.”