George Allen served 30 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
Last year, a judge told Allen that he had been wrongfully convicted and set him free. It’s been several months since Allen left prison, and to some who fought so hard to get him out; his release is bittersweet and not enough.
The crime was brutal. In February 1982, St. Louis court reporter Mary Bell was found dead in her LaSalle neighborhood apartment. She had been raped and stabbed.
To make a long story short, George Allen, who suffers from schizophrenia, was arrested, confessed to the crime, convicted and sent to prison for 97 years. That sentence was thrown out in November of last year when Judge Green overturned Allen’s conviction because police did not disclose evidence pointing to his innocence. On Nov. 14, 56-year-old Allen walked out of a courthouse in Jefferson City a free man. With his mother by his side, Allen addressed the media.
“I look forward to living with my family again and getting on with my life," Allen read from a prepared statement. "Thank God this nightmare is finally ending.”
Thomas Block was with Allen on that happy day. He had a lot to do with Allen’s release. Block met Allen more than a decade ago when he was a Catholic prison volunteer at Potosi. Block says he became interested in Allen’s case when an inmate said that he should talk to Allen because he thought Allen was really innocent.
So, he did. And after reviewing the court documents that Allen sent to his home, Block was convinced that Allen was an innocent man. Eventually, he was able to convince the New York-based Innocence Project to take up the case. The rest is history. But, Block is still not satisfied now that Allen is free. He’s angry.
“George Allen was wrongfully picked up, wrongfully interrogated, wrongfully convicted, wrongfully sentenced, wrongfully incarcerated. Now what is the compensation for that?," Block said.
The answer to that question is apparently, nothing.
Missouri does have a statute that provides compensation to those wrongfully convicted. It provides $50 per day of post-conviction confinement, up to around $36,000 per year. But only persons determined to be innocent through DNA evidence are eligible. Legal experts say that doesn’t apply to Allen.
Stephen Saloom, policy director for the Innocence Project, says that’s wrong.
“If you’ve been wrongfully imprisoned for 10, 15, 20, 25 years, your life was taken from you," Saloom explained during a phone conversation. "You step out the doors and you have nothing. It’s not enough to be freed at that point. Under the Constitution, it’s obvious to everybody that if the government takes your property you deserve to be compensated for that. But what if they take the best years of your life?"
Saloom hopes the Missouri legislature will revisit the statute soon.
A "Prosecution Complex"
In January, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce officially dismissed the case against Allen saying that the justice system completely failed him and Mary Bell. She has also said that she isn’t convinced that Allen is guilty, but stops short of saying that Allen is innocent.
“I think at this point, the only thing that would completely exonerate him would be if another individual was identified and it could be proven that that person committed this murder," Joyce said.
Statements like this rustle the feathers of defense attorneys.
University of Missouri-Kansas City Law Professor Sean O’Brien assisted on Allen’s case and says this is an example of what he calls a "prosecution complex;" where they are loathe to admit that the wrong guy was prosecuted.
“The standard of proof that George had to satisfy to get where he is today is absolutely formidable," O'Brien said. "You practically have to show innocence beyond any doubt to convince an elected judge in Cole County to find you innocent issue the writ of habeas corpus and let you go."
Since his release, George Allen is living with his mother in University City and adjusting to his freedom.
Another Case of Wrongful Conviction:
University of Missouri Kansas City Law Professor Sean O'Brien, who assisted on George Allen's case, also represented Dale Helmig. Here are some touchpoints of that case:
- Helmig was wrongfully convicted in 2005 for killing his mother. He was freed from prison in December 2010 after a northwest Missouri judge said that he was a victim of fundamental miscarriage of justice.
- He served 15 years in prison, and is also ineligible for compensation under Missouri's current statute.
O'Brien says Helmig had a difficult time adjusting after he was released from prison. Helmig was unable to find employment, and only recently found a job driving a taxi cab.
Helmig has filed a federal lawsuit claiming his constitutional rights were violated.
Follow Julie Bierach on Twitter: @jbierach