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Judge releases man convicted of sexual abuse after prosecutor says he's innocent

Joseph Allen convicted in 1994
Posted at 6:12 PM, Dec 22, 2021

ELYRIA, Ohio — The Lorain man convicted of sexually assaulting Head Start preschool students is free tonight after a judge ordered 68-year-old Joseph Allen released on bond.

It comes as Lorain County Common Pleas Judge Chris Cook considers motions that could grant Allen and his accused accomplice Nancy Smith new trials, after Prosecutor JD Tomlinson told the judge he believes the pair is innocent.

Smith, a former bus driver, was accused of driving pre-school students to Allen's home where investigators said the pair sexually assaulted the children in 1993.

She was convicted and served nearly 15 years in prison.

Allen was also found guilty and remained behind bars until he was released on bond Wednesday.

But attorneys for the pair argue they've uncovered new evidence in the case including a statement from a man who says the mother of one accuser coached her daughter to make false allegations to "get paid."

"New evidence has surfaced from witnesses who were there, who said 'I saw it happen," said attorney Mark Godsey from the Ohio Innocence Project.

Another piece of evidence comes from the Lorain County Prosecutor himself.

Tomlinson said a review of the case by his office's investigators supports the claims that no crimes were committed.

"As such, I would not oppose any motion for leave or motion for a new trial and my intention would be exactly what the court has indicated, to dismiss these matters if that motion is granted," said Tomlinson.

But there's no guarantee Tomlinson will get that chance.

That's because the former prosecutor in the case has come forward saying he represents the victims in the case and has filed a motion asking the judge to appoint a new prosecutor in the case.

"I don’t think that a criminal defendant should be heard to say I can come back to court every time there’s a change in prosecutors to change the judgment of the court," attorney Jonathan Rosenbaum told the judge.

The judge did not indicate when he'd rule on the motions, but Allen's niece was hopeful.

"We've known this for 27 years that he was innocent," said Cassandra Marr. "This gives us, even more, hope that he's out and possibly a new trial so that they can put all the pieces of the puzzle together and finally say this never happened."