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If this case is like other wrongful ritual sex abuse convictions, the Lorain jurors were right. The children didn't make up those stories; the adults did. The preposterous fantasies in these cases—which have included horrific accounts of cannibalism, ritual murder, penetrating children with knives, and forced sex between children and animals—sprang from the minds of parents, cops, prosecutors, and child psychologists charged with protecting the kids.
The district attorney who oversaw the Lorain investigation, Greg White, later served as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio and is now a federal magistrate. The assistant district attorney who prosecuted the case, an aggressive rising star named Jonathan Rosenbaum, forced the resignation of local newspaper columnist Paul Facinelli after Facinelli wrote a series of hard-hitting columns and reports questioning the Smith and Allen convictions. In 2002 Rosenbaum himself was asked to resign after several controversial sex abuse cases, including one in which he charged a woman for photographing her 8-year-old daughter in the bathtub and another in which he pursued a case based on allegations gleaned from now-discredited "recovered memory" therapy. (In 2008 Rosenbaum was paralyzed from the waist down after he was shot by his son in a hunting accident.)
It may be true that Judge Burge exceeded his authority in ordering acquittals for Nancy Smith and Joseph Allen. But so did White and Rosenbaum by prosecuting them in the first place. Although the prosecutors failed to turn exculpatory evidence over to Smith's and Allen's attorneys, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the convictions in 1996. Because the bar for winning a new trial is set so high, appeals courts tend to dismiss such state misconduct as "harmless error." When prosecutors break the rules in their pursuit of a conviction, it's a harmless error. But when a judge, outraged at the appallingly weak case that put two apparently innocent people in prison, reaches beyond his authority to correct the injustice, the forgiving appeals courts suddenly become sticklers for procedure.
Radley Balko is a senior editor at Reason magazine.