Elyria Chronicle

Parole board: Nancy Smith is in denial
Ex-Head Start bus driver refuses to admit guilt

February 22, 2007
Brad Dicken

The Chronicle-Telegram
Nancy Smith’s bid for freedom Tuesday was rejected for a number of reasons, including a parole board official’s opinion that she hadn’t served enough time after being convicted of molesting children while she was a Head Start bus driver in the 1990s.

Smith had her first parole hearing Tuesday during which she refused — as she has all along — to admit her guilt.
“The parole board member who interviewed her felt she was in denial,” said Andrea Dean, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

Parole board member Ellen Venters also said Smith “wasn’t always forthcoming,” Dean said.

Smith, 52, is serving a 30- to 90-year prison sentence for a 1994 conviction for rape, complicity to rape and gross sexual imposition.

The case against Smith evolved into one of Lorain County’s most controversial cases when it was brought forth in 1993. According to police and prosecutors, Smith would take preschool students from her Head Start bus route to the home of convicted child molester Joseph Allen, who would rape and terrorize the victims.

But the Ohio Innocence Project, which now represents Smith, believes those children were coerced into testifying against Smith and Allen. The 53-year-old Allen is serving five life sentences and isn’t eligible for parole until 2056.

Bobbi Madonna, the Innocence Project fellow working on Smith’s case, said Venter’s decision to set Smith’s next parole hearing for August 2009 didn’t surprise her.

“I was prepared for it, but that’s not to say I wasn’t disappointed,” Madonna said.

The Innocence Project is considering asking Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland to pardon Smith or grant her clemency, but it hasn’t reached a final decision on whether it will do that before or after Smith’s next hearing.

Dean said Venters didn’t cite Smith’s refusal to admit guilt or to participate in sexual offender treatment programs at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in her decision to deny Smith as chance at release. Rather, Venters’ report, which was released Wednesday, noted that she thought Smith should serve at least 15 years in prison instead of the 12½ that she’s served so far.

The report also classified Smith as a 10 on a scale of one to 13 — with one being the prisoners most likely to be freed.
According to the report, Smith has had no disciplinary problems while incarcerated and has completed several other programs. Dean said those programs were for horticulture and business. Smith also works as a cook at the prison.
Jack Bradley, Smith’s former defense attorney, said he never would have expected Smith to admit to doing anything wrong.

“I know the government wants her to admit to something she didn’t do, but she’s not going to do it,” he said.

Bradley wrote one of 87 letters supporting Smith that Venters considered. County Prosecutor Dennis Will sent the only letter recommending that Smith remain in prison.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.

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