LORAIN, Ohio - Nancy Smith was convicted of child molestation in the early 1990s, but she has always maintained her innocence.
Smith now is out of jail, but not truly free. The threat of going back to to a cell looms over her head, and she lives her life in limbo, ONN’s Cristin Severance reported.
“It’s horrible because you know you didn't do anything, and here you are, sitting in this cell not knowing what's going to happen to your life, what's going to happen to your children, what's going to happen to you,” Smith said. “I just really, really want my name cleared. I want to stay home with my children and grandchildren.”
Smith said her nightmare began in May 1993. She was a bus driver for the Lorain County Head Start program. It was one of three jobs Smith had to support her four children.
“I think it just helped my life get better,” Smith said.
Smith had to pick up the children, take them to daycare and then drive them home. Everything was fine until one day she received a call from her boss.
“That's when they told me that a mother, on Friday, had made allegations against me, saying that I did not take her daughter to school, and that I had molested her daughter. I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Smith said.
Smith had a bus aide on board, attendance sheets and mileage records proving those allegations couldn't be true. Smith even took a polygraph test and passed.
“The lead detective on the case said that as far as he knew, it was over with. The next thing I know they took him off the case and put new detectives on and then, the nightmare began," Smith said.
The mother claimed instead of taking her daughter to school, her daughter was taken to a man's house where she was molested. Police later said that man was Joseph Allen, a man Smith said she had never met.
“No, I never met him, never talked to him, never even seen him before until the day his picture came out in the newspaper,” Smith said.
Smith's attorney is Mark Godsey with the Ohio Innocence project. The Ohio Innocence Project became involved with the case in 2005.
“There was one mother who started fueling it, and drew these other people in. She wasn't able to draw that many people in, because a lot of them said this didn't happen. But there was a core mass of mothers who started this,” Godsey said.
Smith was arrested by police at her home in November 1993.
“They (came), and they arrested me in front of my children and my parents. They handcuffed me and put me in the paddy wagon and took me to jail,” Smith said.
Smith’s daughter, Amber Smith, was 14 at the time.
“I thought, ‘There is no way, she's never hurt us,’” Amber said.
Then came the trial, Severance reported.
“First of all, you read the trial transcripts and the police records, the children are changing their story, and their stories don't even make sense,” Godsey said.
“I mean when you are innocent, you don't think people are going to believe these lies. You trust your justice system,” Smith said. Smith was found guilty and sentenced to 15 to 90 years in prison.
“I was thinking, ‘Who is going to take care of my children?’" Smith said.
“It was like I lost a parent, but she was still alive," Amber said.
Smith had to watch her children grow up from teenagers to adults during their visits at the Ohio Reformatory For Women.
“The worst part is when they would come and they would leave, and I would have to watch them walk out the door,” Smith said.
While Smith sat in prison, Amber became her voice on the outside. She was able to get the Ohio Innocence Project involved.
“We watched the line-up tape together. He pointed out everything that was wrong on the line-up tape,” Amber said.
The line-up tapes show the children brought into the Lorain Police Department to pick out suspect Allen, Severance reported.
Godsey said the kids appeared to be coached. The jury never saw these tapes.
“I’ve actually never seen anything like that in my entire life, where the parents and the officers are telling them who to pick. It’s completely contradicting the testimony at trial," Godsey said. He said this fits the pattern of the "daycare hysteria" cases in the 80s and 90s, when parents would target government-funded day cares and accuse employees of abuse.
“It was sort of sick to say but, people were making these allegations for monetary gain, Godsey said.
The families that made the original allegations did sue Head Start, and received millions of dollars.
“And that's what's sad. It was all created over money in the first place," Amber said.
Almost 15 years passed as the fight continued to free Smith.
“But I'll tell you one thing, I never gave up on hope, never. I knew someday, somehow, some way that truth was going to come out, and it did. Fifteen years later. But it came out," Smith said.
In 2009, Smith appeared before Lorain County Common Pleas Judge James Burge. Smith was there to be re-sentenced because the original paper convicting her wasn't filled out properly. Burge did something unexpected. He overturned