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.
Doug Levine argued at both trials that the semen found on the robe and jeans was the product of consensual sexual intercourse with Watters -- and not left by Allen.
At the first trial, which began in April 1983, Levine argued, "I submit to you that it was consensual sexual intercourse to start, and I submit to you that she wouldn't have opened the door to let just anybody back in. She would have let Russell [Watters] back in. And I submit to you that they had consensual sex, and that something went crazy, something caused the argument that the lady next door heard, and then it was all over."
The jurors deadlocked, with ten of eleven jurors favoring a not-guilty verdict.
In the second trial, Levine stated, "We've got seminal acid phosphatase that is found in the crotch of this lady's jeans. We've got seminal acid phosphatase that is found on the seat of a chair as if she'd sat down, and we've got seminal acid phosphatase in the rear interior portion of the robe," he continued. "We also have no trauma to the vagina. I submit to you that that is very consistent with consensual sexual intercourse."
Prosecutor Dean Hoag argued that it was Allen's seminal fluid they found, and that the defendant raped and sodomized Mary Bell. When she fought back against "the humiliation," he killed her.
"Now, I might add that nine out of ten people in the courtroom could have had sexual intercourse, nine out of ten men," Hoag added. "Now that's not enough to convict him, but it doesn't eliminate him -- because you see if he wasn't one of those nine out of ten, then we wouldn't be here."
Despite the new evidence that eliminated him as the person responsible for the fluid on the robe and jeans, Allen remains behind bars.
Sources say Allen is still in prison because the prosecution's theory of the case has changed. Now the DNA test is being translated to show that Watters and Bell had consensual sex. If so, that means that after twenty years of insisting that Bell was wearing a robe and jeans when she was murdered, and that Allen's seminal fluid was on said robe and jeans, the circuit attorney's office has flip-flopped. Ironically, it also means Levine's argument for acquittal is now being given as the reason to keep Allen in prison.
There have been no formal motions to have Allen released -- though Barry Scheck says he will "eventually file" such a motion after getting more information from the prosecutor's office -- and no one has asked for a new trial in light of evidence unearthed by the DNA test. There hasn't even been a formal motion filed asking for post-conviction DNA testing. (In the past few years, Missouri law was changed to allow inmates convicted of crimes before DNA testing became widely used in the mid-to-late 1980s to petition a judge for an order mandating the test.)
"It shocks my conscience that they did these tests without the benefit of having filed a lawsuit where they could compel, through a court action, his release," Levine says. "They've done it via a handshake. And now we have results that appear to preclude George's possible involvement in this case, and now it sits and it lingers."
Levine isn't the only one frustrated with the slow pace of this case.
In a letter to the Riverfront Times dated March 14, 2004, Allen said that in December 2003, four months after the DNA results were completed, he was attacked by another inmate. Allen writes: "One of my eyes was stabbed out of my head." He is now partially blind.
"Right now I feel that the lawyer is just stringing me and my mother on for another twenty years of my life," Allen writes. "What more is it going to take for me to see my mother?"