Morning Journal
Note:  Investigator Martin Yant is a member of the Board of Directors of Truth in Justice.

Investigator says he can prove Smith is innocent

Wednesday, February 4, 2009 12:29 PM EST

COLUMBUS — A private investigator who has worked on former Head Start bus driver Nancy Smith's case for 13 years said he has obtained piles of evidence that prove her innocence of charges she molested four young children.

Smith, 51, of Lorain, was convicted in 1994 of taking four 4- to 5-year-old children to a location near the Head Start site and sexually abusing them with Lorain resident Joseph Allen, 55. She will be back in court today for a hearing before Lorain County Common Pleas Court Judge James Burge, who will decide whether to have her resentenced due to a technical error in her sentencing entry.

If the judge grants Smith a new sentencing, she could either have her prison term of 30 to 90 years reduced or be released. Allen is serving five consecutive life terms.

Regardless of what happens, Smith said she will fight to clear her name, ideally through a new trial or by prosecutors dismissing the charges against her. If it goes to court again, investigator Martin Yant said new and old evidence alike should overturn Smith's and Allen's convictions.

"It's just never gotten into court," Yant said yesterday from his Columbus office. "I think Nancy and Joseph deserve a chance to be able to present everything. And I think there would be a different outcome."

Yant, who has helped free 12 wrongfully convicted individuals throughout his career, obtained affidavits from bus aides and parents who rode with Smith during the alleged times in which she would take a few children away from Head Start to a location where Allen was waiting. One woman said nothing out of the ordinary happened on the day Smith was first accused of taking a 4-year-old girl to see a man named "Joseph," who reportedly molested her with a stick.

In 2006, Yant spoke with Kymberly Spangler and her son, Wesley, who frequently rode together on Smith's bus. They both filed affidavits indicating they never saw anything improper, that Smith was highly professional and she treated the children well. Spangler had only one complaint — Smith's bus aide was often inappropriately dressed and seemed antsy, depressed and resentful of Smith because she was well-liked.

The woman delivered damning testimony against Smith during her trial, saying she saw Allen try to board the bus once but she chased him away with a tire iron. She also testified she then saw Smith and Allen walking together arm-in-arm. The defense later called a parent in to testify that he was the one who was chased off.

A good deal of favorable evidence for Allen has surfaced as well, Yant said. Years ago he talked with Allen's mother, who produced a photo of his bedroom at their Alabama home that was similar to a picture investigators found in his Lorain apartment that was used against him on trial. Several children relayed they were taken to a room, which was filled with birthday decorations similar to those in the picture. Yant said Allen's mother decorated the room for one of his birthdays he returned home for.

The children also testified Allen's room had toys and dresses in it, which prosecutors recovered and presented as evidence against him. But Yant said he spoke with Catholic Charities officials who said Allen was generous and would fix up toys and other items to give away for others.

Yant said the case against Smith and Allen is a classic example of child abuse hysteria, which started when a mother who had drug problems started spreading rumors to other parents.

"You get somebody like that who starts it. That person can just start something that just takes off and spreads like wildfire. It's frightening," he said.

The initial investigation by Lorain police cleared Smith of wrongdoing, but when a new team of detectives took over, numerous errors were made in interviewing the children, Yant said. To top it off, then-Chief Assistant Prosecutor Jonathan Rosenbaum ignored many of the children's inconsistencies and asked leading questions that were allowed by the judge.

"It just became an atrocity," Yant said.

County Prosecutor Dennis Will has said he will have a prosecutor review Smith's case should favorable evidence surface for her, but so far nothing would warrant granting her a new trial. Yant said he probably doesn't know about the evidence he has found because it hasn't been able to enter the court system. Should it ever, he said it will show that Smith never did anything wrong.

"Of all the cases I've worked on, this one stands out," Yant said. "It's just outrageous. It's just really outrageous."

False Child Abuse Allegations
Innocent Imprisoned

Truth in Justice