Why Won't the State Pay Billy Allen For His Time In Prison -- Or Should It?

Categories: Crime

price of innocence.jpg
In the spirit of this week's cover on the exoneree compensation scheme and the attorneys who've profited handsomely from it, we submit the case of Billy Frederick Allen -- a man incarcerated for nearly 26 years for two apparently drug-related University Park murders. In February 2009, the Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin granted Allen a writ of habeas corpus based on "ineffective assistance of counsel" at trial. There was ample evidence, which his trial attorney didn't pursue, that another man named Billy Wayne Allen was guilty of the murders, the appeals court held.

When Allen filed for compensation in March 2010 under the Timothy Cole Act -- a law passed in 2009 that awards innocent men $160,000, split between a lump sum and a yearly annuity, for each year of wrongful imprisonment -- the Comptroller shot his application down, saying the relief granted by the appeals court didn't come in the form of a pardon or court order that explicitly indicated "actual innocence."

Allen and his attorneys, Kris Moore and Lubbock personal injury attorney Kevin Glasheen, obviously disagreed with the state's interpretation.

To that end, they filed a petition with the Texas Supreme Court to force the Comptroller to pay up. At this moment, it's the only other avenue for an applicant if the state rejects his claim. There is no panel set up to review the legal basis for the claim (and perhaps there should be).

This wouldn't be the first time the Comptroller has bounced a compensation claim, whole or in part. Anthony Graves's was denied compensation because the district attorney's motion to dismiss because of a lack of credible evidence didn't amount to an exoneration. In the 2011 session, state Rep. Rafael Anchia and state Sen. Rodney Ellis introduced ultimately successful legislation to allow for Graves-like claims and for those who've been freed on a habeas writ indicating they're actually innocent. According to some state emails Moore and Glasheen filed as exhibits this week, the Comptroller tried to lobby legislative staff at Sen. Ellis's office for stricter language before the bill's passage, but Ellis' office balked, fearing it would result in legitimate claims getting tossed.

The fact the Ellis's office rejected the language, Allen's attorneys claim, is proof that the legislation was intended to ensure guys like Allen get paid. There's a decent amount of disagreement on that point, which is where the appeals court's opinion may come in to play. In the wee morning hours of April 9, 1983, University Park Police responded to a shooting call. They found James Sewell standing near a duplex, handcuffed, gagged and bleeding from stab wounds to the head. He said he'd been robbed, and that his girlfriend, Dannelle Lashbrook, had been kidnapped. As they loaded him into the ambulance, the detective would later testify, Sewell said it was "Billy Allen" who did it. Sewell later died from his brain injuries.

As they swept the house a second time, police found Lashbrook's body in a car parked in the building's carport. They also found a hand print on the car's hood, which turned out to be Billy Frederick Allen's. He was charged and convicted of the murders and sentenced to two concurrent 99-year sentences. A subsequent trial court found problems with the state's case. For one, Lashbrook and Sewell were apparently drug dealers. Lashbrook's specialty, court records say, was cooking meth. The house had been ransacked in a way that suggested this was all drug-related. Allen was certainly an acquaintance of Sewell's, but not that kind of acquaintance. In fact, just days before, Allen had sold Sewell a few scraps of goal. Allen's wife testified that he'd leaned against the car with his hand on the hood as Sewell counted the money to pay him.

The state's other linchpin was a detective's recollection of Sewell's last words, pinning the attack on "Billy Allen." But a paramedic attending to Sewell said he'll never forget the dying man saying "Billy Wayne Allen" over and over. Not Billy Frederick Allen. Investigators knew all about Billy Wayne, who had a history of drug abuse and violence. He was even a suspect. A man who knew Billy Wayne subsequently bought jewelry and a pistol that belonged to Lashbrook, a defense investigator found.

The two prongs of the state's case were found by a habeas court to be based on bogus evidence -- the product of investigators with tunnel vision.

"In light of this state of the evidence, it is not surprising that the habeas court found that the newly discovered evidence 'of innocence was so strong that it could not have confidence in the outcome of the trial,'" the appeals court ruled, tossing out his conviction. The following month he was released from prison.

Now, is that endorsement of Allen's compensation claim, or does it leave the Comptroller with just enough wiggle room to deny him? That's the question the Texas Supreme Court will have to answer, because not all cases are blessed with the DNA silver bullet.


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16 comments
Mike Morgan
Mike Morgan

So which Billy Allen is guilty and which one is innocent?  Don't the People need a trial to determine that first? No.  Apparently not...

WOLFGANG DEMINO
WOLFGANG DEMINO

UPDATE ON THIS STORY: The Texas Supreme Court issued its decision this morning (5/18/2012) concluding that "Billy Frederick Allen is entitled to compensation under the TCA" [Tim Cole Act], and ordered the Comptroller to pay compensation.

10-0886IN RE BILLY FREDERICK ALLEN The Court conditionally grants the writ of mandamus.Justice Wainwright delivered the opinion of the Court.

WOLFGANG DEMINO
WOLFGANG DEMINO

See Supreme Court Opinion handed down this morning.10-0886IN RE BILLY FREDERICK ALLEN The Court conditionally grants the writ of mandamus.Justice Wainwright delivered the opinion of the Court.

Renegade
Renegade

What is "scraps of goal?"

Mike
Mike

What if we had an admitted killer (not under oath) have his case tossed because of some kind of corruption in evidence chain discovered years later? Those people would get out on habeas corpus while the prosecution works to rebuild the case. I doubt the intent of the state was to pay those individuals compensation. I would guess the Supremes would return the case to the appellate judges and have them formally state their intentions: direct a verdict of not guilty if you want exoneration or just let out on habeas corpus if they want to give the state the opportunity to retry.It looks like this guy will be the former and we'll pay him for the time lost. The Controller's Office is not the bad guy here. With hundreds of thousands of state money on the line, the individual's status has to be black and white, not a scintilla of gray allowed. It is not a question of DNA/no DNA. It is what the judges decide.

Scott Henson
Scott Henson

Gee, and here I thought Glasheen et. al. were just bilking their clients and providing no real representation. Oh wait, that's only your cover story. You wouldn't want to portray THIS fight on the cover since it doesn't fit with the "attorneys are evil bloodsuckers" meme.

Just curious: Are attorneys representing the client described in this story merely billing Mr. Allen (who is surely indigent) or are they engaged in a "compensation scheme," as you put it in your lede? Given criticisms in the media of these same attorneys for representing clients just like Mr. Allen in civil litigation, the question arises: Do you think they should represent him for free? Clients with money can pay a hourly rate, but indigent clients (like someone wrongly imprisoned for many years with no income or assets) can't pay hourly fees, which is why contingency contracts exist. Would Observer editors who chose to highlight the compensation conflict on the cover prefer Mr. Allen and other similarly situated received  no representation at all?

Cory Session
Cory Session

Tim Cole was my oldest brother. I can assure you that the Tim Cole Compensation Act was indeed intended to compensate individuals in cases just like this one. Mr. Allen should be compensated for his wrongful conviction. The Court of Criminal Appeals has spoken loudly in its written opinion, so now let it be done.

Kristopher Moore
Kristopher Moore

Thank you for raising the question. I would also point out that 2 of the justices in the majority wrote concurring opinions in which Justice Price wrote: "I find that no rational juror could fail to harbor a reasonable doubt." And Justice Cochran wrote that the evidence of two paramedics testifying that the victim named another man is sufficient to establish Allen's actual innocence. The fact is, not every wrongful conviction has DNA but that doesn't make the conviction any less wrong . . . Especially when you can actually convince the Court of Criminal Appeals of your actual innocence; a huge feat in and of itself.

A.J. SEWELL TAYLOR
A.J. SEWELL TAYLOR

"Scraps of gold" my ass. My Daddy and B.Allen had known each other for YEARS. They ran in same circle.

Kristopher Moore
Kristopher Moore

The problem here, Mike, is that the judges DID decide he was actually innocent.  The only thing confusing people is the very last line which only mentions "ineffective assistance of counsel."  The rest of the opinion talks about how the court agrees that Allen is innocent.  But the State wants to point to that very last line as a technicality and say "See, he's not innocent!"  In the meantime, the State ignores the other concurring opinions which also state Allen is innocent. 

Oh, and by the way, don't forget when the Comptroller tried to get the law changed to bar compensation to Allen the Senate rejected the change because of what it would do. 

A.J. SEWELL TAYLOR
A.J. SEWELL TAYLOR

I understand your point,but there is NO way on this earth I will EVER feel like mr.allen deserves any kind of payment for what they did to my Daddy.

Guest
Guest

Yes. Because there's certainly no difference between actually filing a lawsuit to attempt to recover money that's been denied and filing out a one-page form for compensation that the attorney has no reason to believe will be denied.

If it's me, maybe I just tell those folks who just need to fill out the form that they just need to fill out the form. If the form is denied, then let's talk about legal avenues to pursue and what the compensation for that might be.

Also, if someone hires me to sue someone, I'm not going to take that to mean that I should be lobbying the legislature. Sometimes people want to sue people for reasons beyond compensation. And I can't imagine I would bill people for a piece of the compensation that they haven't received and may never get.

Pointing out that one aspect of a lawyer's business seems to be a bit "off" doesn't mean that one believes that every single thing that lawyer does is also "off". A reasonable person could probably tell the difference between potentially earning millions as a percentage of compensation that the attorney had to spend hundreds of billable hours fighting for while also noting that, just maybe, earning 25% of the state compensation for filling out a one-page form is a bit of a cheat.

born here
born here

You forgot to mention what this man did to his own daughter when he came home.

Mike
Mike

In the DMN today, DA Watkins' office said he was still a suspect.  That's not innocent or even not guilty per my understanding of prosecution procedure.  Once the appellate judges clarify his status, then the state can move forward.  This case is not one where the system has a personal grudge against this man.  We just don't want a gray area that allows some real low life to squeeze into a big paycheck citing a precedent.  Gray areas go to the defendant on whether he gets convicted.  Gray areas go to the state on whether he gets compensated.

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