Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lorain Police Chief Questions Nancy Smith Conviction in Tapes

Posted By on Thu, Mar 17, 2011 at 11:27 AM


Update: The follow-ups cometh. Both the Plain Dealer and Morning Journal have good articles today on the recent recordings of Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera questioning the conviction of Nancy Smith in the Head Start case. But an unsurprising development is who sprung the latest leak.

Lurking behind the headline is none other than Joseph Montelon, the former LPD cop, sex offender, and subject of Scene’s recent cover story about his efforts to call out the department on misconduct. As we wrote, Montelon has his finger firmly planted in the LPD’s eye, and these latest headlines are his fine work: both the Plain Dealer and the Morning Journal report Montelon forked over the recordings.

The material is significant, and let’s take a breather and think about why. The recordings have Rivera saying “he questioned his own detectives about whether the case was on the "up and up" and that a former assistant county prosecutor pressed police to turn over the case despite the fact he didn't feel there was enough evidence,” so says the PD. But keep in mind, Rivera ran this investigation and was present for the now infamous lineup ID.

It’s also important to note: the tapes were probably the promised ace in Smith’s back pocket. Since the Supreme Court ruling, the former bus driver’s lawyers have promised new evidence that would force a retrial. These recordings were part of that evidence, and the defense team isn’t happy their secret ammo is wallpapering the front pages of multiple outlets.

Bradley said he had planned to use the tapes in a request for a new trial once the Supreme Court makes its decision.

“We did not authorize this Montelon character to release anything because we didn’t know he had them,” Bradley said.

Bradley said he was aware the tapes existed and wanted the contents of the tapes to be released “the proper way,” as part of the motion for a new trial.

“We were not going to release any information to the newspapers until after we file a motion for a new trial,” Bradley said.


On Wednesday the Plain Dealer reported on an additional piece of information in the ongoing Nancy Smith and Joseph Allen case. The paper obtained copies of taped conversations between Smith’s daughter and Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera in which the department’s top man — who ran the 1993 investigation that resulted in the conviction of Smith and Allen — says he “did not believe there was enough evidence against Smith,” the paper reports. Rivera allegedly blames the Lorain prosecutor for pushing the case through.

Smith and Allen were tried and convicted for molesting children from the Head Start daycare program in the mid-'90s. The evidence against the pair was shoddy, and eventually a judge threw out the conviction after Smith and Allen spent 14 years in jail. But earlier this year the Ohio Supreme Court reversed that decision, potentially sending the pair back to prison.

The heat keeps coming on the Lorain Police Department. Earlier this month, we landed our cover story on the department’s track record of using the law against critics. Also, both the PD and 19ActionNews have run good stories on Smith and Allen since the ruling. But for our money (warning, shameless self-promotion ahead), the best overview of the case is the 2001 Scene cover story on former reporter Paul Facinelli.

If the Head Start case interests you, read it. No one logged more man hours on this than Facinelli, and a lot of what’s circulating today is stale chips compared to his original reporting for The Chronicle Telegram. He poked holes in the prosecution when everyone else was content to let Smith and Allen finish their days breaking rocks. The old cover story goes beyond the play-by-play and hands out a heady dose of the personality and nuance involved — good bedrock as you take in the new developments.

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