A judge on Friday dismissed charges against two people who had been imprisoned for years over a woman’s accusations they molested her daughter and other Ohio Head Start pupils, saying new evidence would not support convictions if new trials were granted.
Among the evidence cited by Lorain County Judge Chris Cook were affidavits signed by the woman’s son and her ex-husband that said she coached her daughter to accuse Nancy Smith, 64, and Joseph Allen, 68, of abuse in the early 1990s.
Lorain County Prosecutor J.D. Tomlinson’s office previously reviewed the cases of Smith and Allen and concluded they were innocent. He had said previously he would ask Cook to dismiss the charges.
Smith spent 15 years in prison and Allen a total of 23 years behind bars.
Struggling to maintain their composure, both thanked their attorneys, the judge and those believed in their innocence on Friday.
The abuse case began in May 1993 when Margie Grondin told Lorain police that Smith had driven her daughter and other young children on a Head Start bus to a home where they were sexually abused.
In dismissing the case, Cook cited additional affidavits including one from retired Lorain police detective Tom Cantu, whose investigation found no evidence of abuse. His report was never given to Smith and Allen’s attorneys to use at trial.
The affidavits, Cook said, “would torpedo any effort to convict them at a new trial.”
Attempts to reach Grondin, who now uses the last name Perazzola, were unsuccessful.
Cantu was removed from the investigation after Grondin complained that her allegations were being ignored. A new team of detectives were assigned to the case and Grondin convinced other parents their children were molested as well, Smith and Allen’s attorneys say.
Allen became a suspect after Grondin’s daughter told police the man who molested her and the other children was named Joseph. A detective recalled that Allen had been convicted in the mid-1980s of sexual battery of a child.
Smith and Allen went to trial together in the summer of 1994 and were convicted based on the testimony of four children, including Grondin’s daughter. No medical evidence of abuse was presented at trial.
Smith was originally sentenced to 30 to 90 years in prison. Allen received five consecutive life sentences plus 22 to 50 years. Unsuccessful appeals followed.
They were back in court in 2009 to fix errors in their original sentences. A judge vacated those sentences and later acquitted them after finding no evidence to support their convictions. Smith and Allen were released from prison.
The Ohio Supreme Court ruled the judge lacked the authority to overturn their convictions and new sentencing hearings were ordered. Smith, in an agreement with prosecutors, was found guilty of lesser charges in 2013 and was allowed to remain free.
Allen, also was convicted of lesser charges, but was ordered back to prison with a parole date in 2023. Cook released him on a personal bond in December.
Grondin’s ex-husband, Dino Grondin Sr., said he witnessed the woman coaching her daughter.
“Margie was persistent in trying to get her daughter to agree with what she said happened,” he said. “Margie told me that she was going to ‘get paid’ after the case was over.”
Head Start reached a financial settlement with Grondin and other parents who claimed their children were abused.
Her son, Dino Grondin Jr., said Grondin coached his sister and other Head Start children in a makeshift classroom in her home’s basement.
“The kids had to say the allegations of sexual abuse the way she wanted them to say in order to advance the game,” Dino Grondin Jr. said.
The Ohio Innocence Project, based at the University of Cincinnati College of Law and led by attorney and professor Mark Godsey, has represented Smith since 2004. The National Center for Reason and Justice hired local attorneys to represent Allen in 2013.
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