ELYRIA — Nancy Smith took off her glasses to wipe tears from her face and couldn’t contain her smiles yesterday when she learned she would not have to return to prison.
Visiting Judge Virgil Sinclair approved an agreement hammered out by Smith’s attorneys and Lorain County prosecutors that sentenced Smith to 12 years in prison, but gave her credit for the 15 years she already spent behind bars after being convicted in the Lorain Head Start sexual molestation case in 1994.
Family, friends and supporters filled the courtroom and exchanged hugs and kisses after hearing the sentence.
Sinclair, a retired Stark County judge appointed by the Ohio Supreme Court, also reduced Smith’s rape charges to the lesser offense of gross sexual imposition.
Smith and co-defendant Joseph Allen spent 15 years in prison before Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge acquitted the pair in 2009 when they went before him to correct a sentencing error. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled later Burge exceeded his authority and Smith and Allen would have to be resentenced.
Throughout the case and her long imprisonment, Smith has insisted she is innocent.
With this agreement, Smith cannot appeal and her motion for a new trial has to be dropped.
“This pretty much puts this totally to rest, you understand that?” Sinclair asked Smith, who answered, “Yes.”
Allen was not in court yesterday and his resentencing still awaits.
One of Smith’s attorneys, Sharon Katz, said Smith was very eager to put the case behind her. Attorney Jack Bradley told Sinclair they wanted to get the case resolved.
After the sentencing, Sinclair commended both sides for working to come up with a acceptable resolution.
Katz said Smith did not want to make a statement, but said Smith thanks all of her supporters for being behind her through it all.
“She is going to move forward with the clemency,” Katz said. “She just agreed that there was a conviction, she has not pleaded guilty in court and she has not pleaded guilty in any entry.”
Katz said they will press for governor’s pardon.
“This is the right move in the right direction; she does not need to return to prison,” Katz said.
Burge met with Katz and Smith in the lobby of the Lorain County Justice Center. Burge recused himself from the case after he spoke in favor of Smith’s clemency during a hearing before the state parole board in January.
Burge said the decision “tickled me pink” and is thrilled she gets to remain free.
“This is a very, very, happy day for her,” Burge said. “And this is her (Katz) finest hour.”
In both Smith and Allen’s motions, their attorneys argued that experts since the trial in 1994 have determined the four children, who testified in court, had been questioned improperly by investigators, who planted ideas in their minds, and the children eventually believed what they were told was true.
Katz wrote in motions one of the children denied being abused in three separate interviews. But she was contradicted by her mother who made accusations against Smith and Allen. The officers who interviewed the child said much of the information was provided by the child’s mother and not the child herself.
Smith and Allen’s clemency requests are still pending before the Ohio Parole Board.
As Smith walked out of the Justice Center, family, friends, supporters and the media swarmed around her. A pony also stood outside of the Justice Center wearing a sign stating “FREE NANCY SMITH ... Give her a new trial.”