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Clay blasts Koster over attorney general's handling of the Allen case

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 9, 2012 - U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, on Friday lashed out at Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster in a letter “expressing his astonishment” because Koster is appealing a lower-court ruling that has tossed out the conviction of George Allen for a murder in 1982.

Koster’s deputy replied in a statement that the office was following proper procedures.

In his letter, which Clay billed as “urgent,’’ the congressman noted that St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce has “declined to re-file charges against him.” Joyce has said that too much time has passed since the original trial in 1983.

Wrote Clay to Koster, “I am deeply troubled by your decision to appeal Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green’s decision to void the convictions of George Allen. As you know, Mr. Allen is a mentally ill black man who was wrongfully convicted in 1982 and has spent the last thirty years incarcerated for crimes of which he is actually innocent. “

“I am astonished by your decision to appeal and to ask for a stay of Mr. Allen’s release,” Clay continued. “There is overwhelming evidence of Mr. Allen’s actual innocence and that exculpatory evidence of actual innocence was suppressed at his trial, as well as a clearly false confession taken from a mentally disturbed person.”

Green, in his ruling, had said that Allen’s legal rights were violated because city police failed to tell prosecutors about certain evidence that could help Allen.

Koster’s office replied Friday afternoon in a statement attributed to Deputy Attorney General Joe Dandurand:

“While we certainly respect Congressman Clay’s opinion about the status of this case, the judge made no finding that the defendant was innocent. Rather, the court found prejudice to the defendant in the original trial sufficient to set aside the jury verdict and finding of guilt.

“As this office has said previously, the appellate process provides a system of checks and balances on our state’s trial court decisions. We are confident that, had the court ruled against Mr. Allen, Mr. Allen’s attorney would have availed himself of the same appeals process. We believe the facts and circumstances of the case and the trial court’s findings should be examined by the appellate court as part of the normal safeguarding process.”

The back-and-forth has some political implications. Clay and Koster are both Democrats who won re-election on Tuesday. Koster also is expected to run for governor in 2016. He is a former Republican, switching parties in 2007, and some Democratic officials remain wary of Koster.

Koster, meanwhile, was noticeably active during the last months of this year’s campaigns, often campaigning with other members of Missouri’s statewide Democratic ticket. He often campaigned with Sen. Claire McCaskill, a former prosecutor. He also shifted some campaign money to fellow Democratic candidates who were financially strapped.

Koster also is on good terms with Gov. Jay Nixon who is a longtime personal friend of Clay.

Clay, for his part, touched off some internal Democratic tensions in recent weeks, with his complaints that the state party and the statewide candidates were failing to focus enough -- in time, events and money -- on African-American voters. 

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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