KANSAS CITY — A St. Louis man who served 29 years of a 95-year prison sentence for a brutal 1982 slaying is officially a free man after a three-member state appeals court panel upheld a lower court's decision that led to his release from prison last month.
George Allen, 56, was convicted in 1983 of raping and killing 31-year-old Mary Bell in her St. Louis apartment. Prosecutors used a confession Allen gave to investigators to make their case, but Allen's defense contended the confession by their client, who suffers from schizophrenia, was coerced.
Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green issued a scathing, 75-page ruling last month that suggested St. Louis police ignored and suppressed numerous pieces of evidence, including blood tests that ruled out Allen as the source of semen on Bell's robe.
Green ordered Allen's release, and the St. Louis circuit attorney's office complied Nov. 14. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster appealed the ruling to the state's Western District, arguing that the lower court had abused its discretion by ruling that investigators' failure to provide evidence at trial violated Allen's due-process rights.
Questions about undisclosed evidence were raised by attorneys working for and with the Innocence Project, a New York group that has helped free hundreds of wrongfully convicted inmates nationwide. Several lawyers from the St. Louis firm Bryan Cave also volunteered to work with Allen's defense.
"We're thrilled the appeals court has acted quickly to dismiss the Attorney General's meritless appeal," said Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project. "We are relying on Attorney General Koster to keep his word and not further delay justice for Mr. Allen and his family by further appealing today's decision."
Scheck urged the circuit attorney's office to try to find Bell's real killer in light of the previously undisclosed evidence, which includes fingerprints that investigators had initially rejected as unusable smudges.
Koster issued a statement Wednesday confirming he would not pursue the case further.
"Throughout this case, we have tried to meet the challenge of honoring our duty to prosecute as well as our commitment to justice," Koster's office said in a prepared statement. "We appealed the trial court's finding as part of the safeguarding process for serious criminal convictions. As previously stated, we defer to the Western District Court of Appeals' decision and will not pursue further action."
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce has said her office also will not prosecute Allen again.
Allen's first trial ended in a hung jury. He was convicted in a second trial in 1983 and sentenced to 95 years in prison.
Allen was arrested about a month after Bell's attack when police mistook him for a convicted rapist whom he reportedly resembled, in part because both were African-Americans in their 20s with shaved heads.
Green found that now-deceased St. Louis homicide detective Herb Riley had steered Allen into falsely confessing and overlooked details of Allen's confession that didn't match the circumstances of Bell's death.