Nancy Smith and Joseph Allen were convicted of sexually abusing young
children in August of 1994. Smith, a 37-year-old single mother
with four children, was a bus driver for the Lorain, Ohio Head Start.
The prosecution charged that after delivering the children to
school, she would sometimes keep three or four of them and take them
to a mysterious location, where she and a man known to the children
only as "Joseph" would commit various sexual acts
with them, make them drink urine, and poke them with needles and sticks.
But an examination of the police investigation leaves many disturbing
questions; questions about the children's testimony, questions about
whether Smith and Allen even knew each other -- questions about whether,
in fact, any crimes were committed at all.
The Head Start investigation began on May 1993, when a mother claimed
that her five-year-old daughter told her that instead of going to
school that day, her bus driver Nancy had taken her to "Joseph's"
house where "Joseph" peed on her and molested her with
a stick. The police investigation revealed that nothing unusual could
have happened that day -- Nancy had gone on her regular bus routes
and there was another adult with her.
But the girl's mother went to the media and the story became public.
Other parents and their children came forward, alleging abuse.
Some children said "Joseph" was white, others
that he was black, or a white man who painted himself black, or a
black man with blue eyes.
A few months later, Joseph Allen came to the attention of Lorain police
when he reported a stolen vehicle. Allen had a 1985 conviction
for sexual battery on a seven-year-old girl, for which he had served
his sentence. Allen was a dark-skinned black man with brown
eyes and light colored scars on his abdomen. Police were convinced
they had their man.
Nine of the ten children who had alleged abuse failed to pick Allen's
picture out of a photo line up. At a live line up the next day,
only three out of seven children chose him. (And even these
are open to question because the parents were tipped off as to which
one was Allen. For example, one mother openly coached her daughter
to pick "number two." )
Prosecutor Jonathan Rosenbaum told the jury that the children hadn't
identified Allen at the line up because they were paralyzed with fear.
One mother testified that when her little boy saw Allen, he started
crying and ran from the viewing room. The video tape of the
lineup, which was not shown to the jury, proves her testimony was
false -- her son didn't cry or run from the room, but rather seemed
to be having a good time.
Another damaging witness was Head Start employee Angel Powell, who
had occasionally worked on Nancy Smith's bus as an aide. She testified
that Allen had once tried to get on board and that she had frightened
him away with a tire iron. A Head Start parent came forward
and testified that he recognized the incident and he was the man in
question. He had wanted to say hello to his son, but Powell
had shooed him off. Powell, however, stuck to her incriminating
story. Her cooperation with the prosecution might have come
about because she wanted to avoid Nancy's fate During the investigation,
one of the children had named Powell, not Nancy, as the person who
had taken her to "Joseph's" house.
Allen's prior record spoke heavily against him, and yet he was connected
to the case through the allegations against Nancy Smith, because if
the part about the bus driver wasn't true, then none of the story
was true. Nancy Smith's presumption of innocence, on the other
hand, was unfairly tarnished by Allen's record. Even Head Start
records didn't help them, because Rosenbaum, who had a reputation
has a hard-driving, even ruthless prosecutor, suggested that the school
officials might have falsified her driving logs and other records
to cover up the scandal. (No charges of this sort were ever
The jury declared Smith and Allen guilty. "I don't think
(the children) could have gone into details like that if they were
lying," explained one juror.
"I have never met this man," Smith sobbed as the verdict
was pronounced. "I have never seen this man. I never touched
those children. Ever."
Judge Lynette Gough sentenced Joseph Allen to five consecutive life
sentences -- a longer sentence than that received by Wayne Williams, the
Atlanta child killer. Nancy Smith received thirty to ninety years.
Update February 2007: Nancy Smith became eligible
to apply for parole but was turned down.
Update February 2009:
Nancy Smith was unexpectedly
released on bail February 4, 2009 after Lorain (Ohio) County Common
Pleas Court Judge James Burge overturned her 30-to-90-year sentence on a
legal technicality. The judge set bail at $100,000 pending a new
sentencing hearing. Supporters of Nancy and her co-accused, Joseph
Allen, can donate to their cause through the
National Center for Reason and Justice.
Prosecutors have vowed to return Smith to prison.
April 14, 2009: Joseph Allen has also been released from prison on
$100,000 bail. Allen told the Chronicle-Telegram: “I was
wrongfully accused and incarcerated for over 15 years,” [but] 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.... 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.
Update June 24, 2009: Nancy
and Joseph acquitted and free!
Update January 27, 2011:
Ohio Supreme Court ruled that Judge Burge did not have jurisdiction to
overturn the sentences. They rule that Nancy and Joseph must return to
prison. The cruelty of this decision is unimaginable.
Nancy Smith and her four children
during a prison visit
here for longer article about
and Joseph Allen:
The Shame of Lorain, Ohio
Watch as Nancy realizes she is about to be
freed from prison:
Watch as Judge
Burge overturns Nancy and Joseph's conviction
article about Paul Facinelli, the journalist who uncovered the
wrongdoing in the police line-up, and how his crusade cost him his
Joseph Allen -- the children
described a white man who painted himself black, with blue eyes