April 23, 2014

Medina
Mostly cloudy
47°F

Parole board rejects pardon

By a 9-2 vote, the Ohio Parole Board has recommended against a pardon for former bus driver Nancy Smith in the controversial Head Start child molestation case.

The final decision, however, belongs to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who received the recommendation Thursday. The report was made public Friday morning.

The Parole Board’s recommendation comes a few months after a plea deal in the case that saw Smith plead out to reduced charges in exchange for a prison sentence that was actually less than the nearly 15 years she spent behind bars.

Smith said Friday that she wasn’t surprised by the Parole Board’s recommendation and vowed to continue fighting as long as it takes to clear her name.

“It’s a travesty and injustice what these people have done to me,” Smith said.

Smith and her co-defendant Joseph Allen have long denied they molested 4- and 5-year-old children on Smith’s Head Start bus route and continue to maintain their innocence.

Allen is pursuing his own clemency request.

The plea agreement prevented Smith from having to register as a sex offender, but also took the possibility that her sentence could be commuted to time served off the table as an option for the Parole Board. Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will backed commutation, but not a pardon.

The clemency report said a majority of the Parole Board didn’t believe that Smith’s arguments that she wrongfully was convicted — including serious problems with how the alleged victims in the case were interviewed by police — were enough to win a favorable recommendation from the board.

They also thought that the roughly four years since Smith was freed by Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge on a technicality wasn’t enough time to prove she wouldn’t reoffend.

Smith said the suggestion that she might commit a crime has no basis in reality.

“I’m not a sex offender, so they never have to worry about me reoffending because I never offended in the first place,” she said.

Two members, however, thought: “There is a strong indication that the testimony of the children/witnesses was contaminated and the applicant was weakly and/or wrongly linked to Joseph Allen, whom law enforcement believed to be a pedophile.

These issues and others call into question the applicant’s involvement and conviction,” the report said.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the governor’s office has followed the case closely and had a representative attend a January hearing before the Parole Board. But he said Kasich is under no obligation to take any action on a request for executive clemency, but added that he could not comment on whether the governor would do anything with Smith’s pardon request.

“We don’t comment on these things publicly unless a decision is received,” Nichols said.

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