Review of The Edge of Doubt: The Trial of Nancy Smith and Joeseph Allen by David Miraldi Rating *****
This story begins in 1993 with an accusation of child molestation by a black man named Joeseph Allen. The accusation by the child’s mother also included a claim against a bus driver, Nancy Smith, who was accused of driving the four-year-old child to the home where the molestation took place. From this first accusation and the initial investigation into it, Author David Miraldi follows this tragic story for the next three decades.
The idea that people entrusted with the care of young children might also be molesting those same children first gained national attention in the early 80’s. What started as a single accusation soon spread into a nationwide hysteria involving childcare workers who were eventually tried and convicted of serious child molestation charges. It was only years later after experts in the field of child psychology reexamined the original interviews and determined that the children had been manipulated into making false accusations through poor interviewing techniques. Most of the childcare workers who were convicted were eventually released – but not all. Some remain in prison to this day. Though the author does not make a direct connection between what happened in the childcare cases in the 80s, I believe a direct connection can be made.
The detective who conducted the initial investigation into the child molestation accusations involving Nancy Smith and Joeseph Allen did not find sufficient evidence to support the claim. That would change once the mother of the child decided to take matters into her own hands and contacted other parents of children who she suggested might also have been molested. She also contacted the media. It wasn’t long after those moves that Lorain, Ohio soon had its own child molestation hysteria take root.
A new investigation by new detectives found the accusations by the growing number of parents and children to be credible. They came to this conclusion despite glaring inconsistencies in the children’s stories.
As the author reexamines all that transpired in the various interviews, photo and live lineups, and subsequent trials and hearings, it’s easy to see the glaring errors that occurred at almost every step. Unfortunately, once the ball starts rolling and there is a conviction, correcting those errors is extremely difficult. It’s made even more difficult when the people behind the numerous errors can not admit to having made a mistake and go out of their way to block and hamper attempts to correct the wrongful conviction. In this case, Prosecutor Jonathan Rosenbaum stands out as someone who is so blind to his own shortcomings that no amount of evidence could convince him otherwise.
What about the defense attorneys? Despite their best efforts, they made consequential mistakes. One of their biggest mistakes was to not introduce attendance records for the children who were supposed to have been driven to some unknown location where they were abused and raped while they were supposed to be at the Head Start preschool.
As sad as Nacy Smith’s ordeal was, Joeseph Allen’s fate was even worse. All thanks to a broken criminal justice system unwilling to correct errors even when those errors are clear for anyone to see.
You will be outraged as you read this book. You will be even more outraged when you read what was really behind it all. The childcare molestation cases in the 80s may very well have been the seed that grew into the sad story of Nancy Smith and Joeseph Allen.