June 26, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Head Start child molestation defendant can breathe sigh of relief

One of the defendants in the controversial Head Start child molestation case will not return to prison under a sentencing agreement with prosecutors approved Tuesday.

Nancy Smith wiped tears from her eyes as the hearing concluded in a Lorain County courtroom packed with her supporters.

Nancy Smith

Visiting Judge Virgil Sinclair agreed to sentence Smith to 12 years in prison.

The original sentence imposed on Smith was 30 to 90 years in prison and she already has served roughly 15 years. Sinclair reduced the original rape charges Smith was convicted of to gross sexual imposition.

The terms of the agreement bar Smith, who long has maintained her innocence, from filing a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit. A motion for a new trial filed by Smith’s lawyers was dismissed under the agreement.

Smith’s lawyers said their client wanted to put the fear of being returned to prison behind her.

Smith was freed in 2009 by Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge because of a technical flaw in the 1994 sentencing entry that ordered her to prison.

Burge freed her co-defendant Joseph Allen, that same year and later acquitted both after reviewing the evidence in the case.

He said at the time that he had no confidence the guilty verdicts were correct.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that Burge had overstepped his authority.

Smith and Allen, who wasn’t in court Tuesday, remained free after that and both have asked the Ohio Parole Board to recommend that Gov. John Kasich grant them executive clemency.

Burge appeared before the Parole Board in January at a hearing for Smith and urged it to back her clemency bid.

Burge later removed himself from the case and Sinclair was appointed to replace him. Lawyers for both Smith and Allen have asked Sinclair to order new trials based on what they contend is newly discovered evidence of botched interviews of the 4- and 5-year-olds who claimed they were molested by the pair.

Contact reporter Brad Dicken at (440) 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.