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Koster opposes retrial in George Allen case

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 4, 2012 - Attorney General Chris Koster is opposed to retrying the case of George Allen Jr., a University City man in jail for nearly three decades for the murder, rape, sodomy and first-degree burglary of a St. Louis woman.

“Allen has not proved by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable juror would have convicted in light of this ‘new’ evidence,” Assistant Attorney General Michael Spillane wrote in a brief. This is the first time that the attorney general's office has weighed in on this case.

Allen was convicted in 1983 of the rape and murder of Mary Bell in her home in the LaSalle Park neighborhood of St. Louis. He is serving a 95-year sentence at the Jefferson City Correctional Center.

Attorneys for the Innocence Project and Bryan Cave announced in September that they were trying to free Allen. Lawyers argued that post-conviction DNA testing excluded Allen as the source of semen found at the crime scene, that police and lab reports contradict the state's serology evidence at trial, and that a key prosecutorial witness underwent pretrial hypnosis "directed at critical aspects of her testimony."

According to a memorandum supporting a writ of habeas corpus, Allen was caught in March 1982 several blocks away from Bell's home after police thought he was a sex offender they were pursuing. Allen -- a diagnosed schizophrenic with a history of hospitalizations – eventually confessed, but his admission was contested at trial because he "gave numerous unsure or flatly incorrect answers regarding even the most basic details of the crime."

But in a late March filing, Spillane argued that to “establish a free standing claim of actual innocence, the petitioner must show by clear and convincing evidence that no reasonable juror would convict.”

The new evidence, Spillane writes, doesn’t meet that standard, adding that “balancing this ‘new’ evidence against Allen’s confession and other evidence at trial, a reasonable juror could still vote to convict."

Spillane concludes in his brief. Allen's "free standing innocence claim therefore fails as a matter of law under the standard in [case law].”

[Click here to read the entire brief.]

Lawyers involved in the case stated that Koster’s opinion was important. Daniel Harvath, an attorney with Bryan Cave who is working the case, said that if the attorney general had conceded, "it would have expedited the process to getting George's release."

Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project, said in a statement that his organization was “deeply disappointed that the attorney general’s office is refusing to acknowledge that George Allen did not get a fair trial when we now know that exculpatory serology evidence was hidden from the defense.”

Ameer Gado of Bryan Cave added that the “volume of exculpatory evidence that was withheld and false testimony that was given at his trial is staggering.”

“While Mr. Allen shouldn’t have to serve another day in prison, we are at least hopeful that the court will quickly recognize the injustice that has been done here and reverse Mr. Allen’s conviction,” Gado said in statement.

The case caught the attention of U.S. Reps. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis City, and Emmanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City. Both congressmen had urged Koster to reexamine the case, noting among other things that Allen “lived 10 miles away from the victim, and the murder occurred during a record snowstorm that left 20 inches of snow on the ground.”

A counsel status hearing for the case is scheduled for April 23 at the Cole County Court House. Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green is hearing the case.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.