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.

The soft-spoken, bespectacled inmate is now 47, and his hair is turning gray. Known to corrections officials as inmate number 48248, Allen says he gets daily doses of medication and psychiatric visits every three months for what he's been told is "schizo-affective" disorder.

Allen doesn't know much more about his mental condition -- he says he doesn't like to talk about it with the doctors. What he really wants to talk about is his religious awakening. He says that at 9 p.m. on September 9, 1993, he was "drawn to the kindness of Jesus" and saved during a "Rock of Ages" revival at the prison.

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

"He [Jesus] was perfect, and everybody was looking on him as if he was doing wrong," Allen explains. Since that moment at the revival, Allen says, he was born again: "It was kind of like walking out of the darkness and into the light."

Allen may have found Jesus in prison, but he gave up any expectation that he'd ever be a free man. "I'd lost hope," he says. That changed on Memorial Day, he says, when he received a phone call from his lawyer telling him he was going to be tested. Was he happy? "It takes me a little while to get excited about it -- after all these years," Allen says.

He says he feels horrible about what Mary Bell went through -- anyone who wouldn't is cold-hearted, he says. But he adds: "I didn't kill Miss Mary Bell. I was a product of the system that got rid of black people from the street, especially black men."

Asked about his confession many years ago, Allen says, "I didn't know nothing about no murder. They put words in my mouth. Whatever they wanted me to say, that's what I said."

Allen's former defense lawyer says he's relieved the case is being reexamined. "I still strongly believe that he is not guilty," says Douglas Levine, who is now the St. Louis County chief deputy public administrator. Levine acknowledges that the DNA test, which reopens the question of Allen's guilt, will conjure up painful memories for everyone touched by Bell's murder. "A lot of people don't want that case dredged back up," he says.

Mary Bell's mother and brother declined comment. Neither John Bell nor Russell Watters, who both still practice law in St. Louis, returned calls.

Dean Hoag, the prosecutor who tried the case against Allen twice, is now an assistant U.S. attorney. Asked whether he thinks justice was done in the Mary Bell murder case, he says, "Obviously I do. That's a goofy question."

"George Allen," Hoag says, "is guilty."

Looking through the lens of the criminal-justice system, Hoag is right: A convicted man is a guilty man. And twelve jurors decided decades ago that Allen raped and murdered Mary Bell.

Science may offer another verdict.

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