Semen Says

A new DNA test casts serious doubt on George Allen's guilt. So why is he still in prison?

On February 4, 1982, Mary Bell was stabbed with a butcher knife fourteen times in the back, eight of the wounds ripping through the front of her naked body. Her throat was sliced all the way back into her spine. On that snowy morning, the body of this pretty 31-year-old freelance court reporter was found lying face down in a pool of blood inside her LaSalle Park apartment.

After two trials -- the first ending in a hung jury -- George Allen Jr., then 26, was convicted of raping, sodomizing and murdering Bell. The African-American man received a 95-year prison sentence.

Prosecutors maintained that Bell was clad in a robe and jeans at the time of her brutal death and that George Allen left his seminal fluid on the clothing during the attack. Now, twenty years later, the robe and jeans have been tested for DNA -- and nowhere was Allen's DNA detected.

In August 2003, according to a report by the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, the DNA found was "consistent with" Bell's live-in boyfriend, Russell Watters. It states that "George Allen could not be a contributor." The Riverfront Times only recently obtained the report, through a Sunshine Law record request filed in July.

Allen's DNA was also eliminated from a "rolled" cigarette butt found at the scene, but that was never introduced as evidence in the trial. The lab results on it are "consistent with being a mixture of DNA from Mary Bell....with a trace amount of DNA from another individual." The trace amount is enough to conclude that "George Allen could not be a contributor to this mixture." The DNA tests on the vaginal and anal swabs indicated that it was consistent with female DNA.

Doug Levine, Allen's former trial attorney, says of the tests, "I think that it shows that the prosecution's theory at that time, which was perhaps arguably plausible at that time, is foreclosed now. It is no longer viable."

The Innocence Project's Barry Scheck, who now represents Allen, shares Levine's contention. "I do believe that this evidence alone should be sufficient to vacate the conviction," Scheck says, "and we're working with [the circuit attorney's office] in order to persuade them to that point of view -- and I think there's more evidence to come."

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce declined comment, saying her schedule was too full.

The case against Allen was never clear-cut. At the murder scene, police found twenty identifiable fingerprints, and nineteen belonged to Russell Watters, a St. Louis attorney and the man Bell was living with at the time. (One fingerprint belonged to an investigating officer.) Bell and Watters began seeing each other in June 1981. Two months later, Bell separated from her lawyer husband, John Bell. Based on alibis, police ruled out both the estranged husband and the lover as suspects.

Investigators found the murder weapon, an eight-and-a-half-inch-long butcher knife, wrapped in a towel, placed inside a cooler and then shoved into a closet in the apartment. Inside the towel was a single hair from the beard of a white male.

Six weeks after the murder, police grabbed George Allen, a man with a history of mental illness and alcohol abuse. During a rambling and at times incoherent interrogation, homicide detective Herb Riley showed Allen photographs of the blood-soaked apartment. At one point, Riley lied to him, telling Allen that his fingerprints were found at the crime scene.

At last Allen confessed, saying he forced his way into the apartment, even though there was no sign of forcible entry, and that he had sex with Bell -- but "front was all." After further goading from Riley, Allen finally admitted he could have sodomized her. Riley asked if he remembered cutting her. Allen said no. Riley pressed on: "Didn't you get something from her house and cut her?"

At one point, Allen told a frustrated Riley, "I'm rememberin' it 'cause you got the evidence. I don't remember nothin'. You got the evidence and the fingerprints, you know. Before we started talking, I said, 'No, I don't remember.'"

Allen, who lived in University City, didn't own a car. In order to kill Bell, he would have had to walk several miles in almost twenty inches of snow. A neighbor testified that at around 10 a.m. on the morning of the murder, she heard angry male and female voices come from Bell's apartment. She assumed it was Bell and Russell Watters.

Investigators scoured Allen's home and Bell's apartment but never came up with any physical evidence that would have placed Allen in Bell's apartment. What they eventually found was the blood-soaked clothing with seminal fluid on it. The fluid was tested using crude methods by today's standards. The tests determined that the fluid came from a non-secretor, meaning that the person who left it didn't secrete antigens into his semen or blood. George Allen, like nine out of every ten men, was a non-secretor.

That evidence led police, the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's office and later the Missouri Attorney General's office to conclude that Bell had been wearing a robe and a pair of pants when she was attacked by Allen, and that it was he who deposited the seminal fluid. Bell's vagina showed no signs of trauma, but they concluded she'd been raped.

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