Best Evidence

George Allen claims police made him confess to rape and murder. Twenty years after Allen was convicted, his last hope hinges on a DNA test.

In the Bell murder case, Levine asked for a psychological exam. Again, the medical records aren't part of the public record, and there is no reference to the diagnosis in the public court files. Levine says, "There were questions about that, but I honestly don't remember."

However, after an exam was performed, the judge ruled that Bell was fit to stand trial, and the proceedings started on April 20, 1983.

Circuit Attorney George Peach, a get-tough prosecutor later driven from the office in a prostitution scandal, assigned the case to assistant circuit attorney Dean Hoag. Peach, Hoag and other prosecutors knew Mary Bell, who had worked as a court reporter for the circuit attorney's office two years before she died.

William Hood
Murder victim Mary Bell
St. Louis Mercantile Library/UMSL
Murder victim Mary Bell

During the first trial, Levine blasted Allen's arrest and confession. In his closing arguments, he fumed about how police nabbed Allen and how they elicited his confession: "Six weeks after the incident they've got a black boy walking nine blocks away from the incident, and then three hours later they've got a statement."

And he went after Riley. "Herb Riley was a 'saintly' fellow," Levine said. "I don't know what Dean [Hoag] called him exactly, but [it was] something like that.

"'Did you stick it in her butt?' [asks] the 'saintly' Sergeant Herb Riley," Levine continued, noting that Allen denied doing any such thing. And Levine told the jury to be suspicious of the interrogation that took place before the tape recorder was turned on. "I submit to you that you're making a mistake if you don't believe there was a whole heck of a lot more conversation going on prior to the time of the taping of this statement," Levine said.

Much about the case didn't add up. Why would Bell, described as cautious, open the door to a stranger? Why was there no evidence of trauma to Bell's vagina, which indicated, he suggested, that Bell had consented to sex. He said the evidence suggested that she was wearing jeans and a robe when sex was initiated. The evidence, Allen's lawyer argued, pointed a finger at a different suspect. "I submit to you that it was consensual sexual intercourse to start, and I submit to you that she wouldn't have opened the door to let just anybody back in. She would have let Russell [Watters] back in. And I submit to you that they had consensual sex, and that something went crazy, something caused the argument that the lady next door heard, and then it was all over."

"George Allen did not leave that house that day. George Allen did not -- from University City where he lived on a regular basis, he did not trudge through seventeen inches of snow on the morning of February 4, 1982. He didn't do it."

The jurors deadlocked. Some accounts say the vote was eleven to one in favor of a not-guilty verdict; others say it was ten to two. Judge Jack L. Koehr declared a mistrial, which meant that the case would be tried again.

Allen's second trial started on July 18, 1983.

This time, the prosecution was prepared for the defense arguments. Hoag knew that Levine would point a finger at Watters, so he brought in Watters' alibi witnesses to testify. The same was done for John Bell. Mary Bell's brother also testified that he'd had a fight with her in December 1981 because she opened her apartment door on two occasions without first checking to see who it was.

The prosecutor said Allen's confession proved that he killed Bell; he stressed the fact that Allen knew someone had knocked on the door and yelled "Sherry!" Riley testified that he didn't know that Richardson had called Bell's name when she stopped by the house. That was information only the murderer would know.

Richardson, however, testified that she told Riley about yelling Bell's name on February 4, either shortly after the funeral or a few weeks later. The prosecutor and Riley argued that the time frame meant that Riley didn't know until after he interviewed Allen. Allen's lawyer said the time frame put Riley's knowledge before the March 14 interrogation.

With the defense strategy exposed in the first trial, the prosecution outflanked the argument. Although the judge threw out a robbery count, the jury returned a guilty verdict on the remaining counts: capital murder, rape, sodomy and burglary. Allen dodged a death sentence when a juror's mother died during the penalty phase. His sentence, handed down by Judge Richard J. Mehan: life imprisonment without possibility of parole for 50 years on the capital-murder charge and fifteen years on each of the three remaining convictions -- to be served consecutively. His total sentence was 95 years.

After the conviction, Allen's mother received hate mail from people who identified themselves as members of the Ku Klux Klan. She called police, who, she says, told her to "just throw it in the trash can."

Levine says the case drained him. "It was difficult getting into it and difficult living it," he says, recalling the moments during and after the trial when he would get on and off the courthouse elevators with John Bell and Watters. "I don't think I made a lot of friends trying that lawsuit," he says. "But you do what you have to do."

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