December 6, 2002 Updated: June 7, 2013
Nancy Smith, center, with her four teenage children.
The ritual abuse hysteria that swept across the United States in the 1980s and early 1990s resulted in hundreds of innocent people being wrongfully convicted of committing a bizarre concoction of sexual acts on preschoolers. Most of those convicted were eventually freed from prison on appeal, but some innocent people remain behind bars. One of the most blatant cases of wrongful conviction occurred in Lorain, Ohio. There a politically ambitious prosecutor's office coaxed and manipulated a few Head Start preschoolers into testifying that they had been sexually abused repeatedly over a six-month period by their bus driver and some stranger -- two people who never even knew each other, but were sentenced to life for crimes that never occurred in the first place.
by Lona Manning
Bulletin: For Nancy Smith, her long legal odyssey ended June 4, 2013 in an Elyria courtroom where a judge released her for time already served. Instead of the vindication she had steadfastly fought for since her 1994 conviction on child molestation charges, she surrendered her rights to any further appeals to clear her name of the wrongful conviction she was subjected to at the hands of misguided and overzealous Lorain, Ohio prosecutors.
To avoid the possibility of being sent back to prison, she accepted a deal worked out between her attorneys and Lorain prosecutors that sentenced her to 12 years in prison but gave her credit for the 15 years already served since she and co-defendant Joseph Allen were convicted in the Head Start molestation case.
Judge Virgil Sinclair, a retired Stark Count judge appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court to handle Smith’s resentencing, also reduced the rape charges against her to the lesser offense of “gross imposition.”
The resentencing of Allen will take place at a later date. Like Smith, Allen has been free since mid-2009 when Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge acquitted both Smith and Allen when they appeared before him to correct a minor entencing error.