On display in a courtroom on Friday afternoon were what the prosecutor called the “parallel universes of Reggie Allen.”
Prosecutor Steve Sallerson made a case for a six-year prison sentence to St. Clair County Circuit Judge Jan Fiss. He said Allen was a five-time felon with a quick temper, who beat up strippers and triggered a melee when he threw a rock through a car window causing Anthony Rice to be run down by a car outside Allen’s nightclub.
Defense lawyer Tom Daley made his case for Allen to receive probation by eliciting testimony from friends, family and neighbors that Allen was a neglected child who became a doting father, raising not only his two children but two other children, who had their fathers taken by heroin addiction, suicide and failed relationships.
Daley said Allen held a dying friend’s hand after a motorcycle accident, then raised money for the man’s injured wife, left destitute. He helped cancer patients, including his own father, Woody Allen, by carrying him to his deathbed and holding his hand until the end. Allen was a trouble teen, who suffered from a bad childhood, dyslexia and bad decisions, who grew into a caring father, son, neighbor and friend, his lawyer said.
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“I have never seen a public personna so at odds with his real character,” said Allen’s friend James Lily, who said Allen had been tried and convicted by the media.
Fiss sentenced Allen to one year in prison, without comment.
Allen pleaded guilty two months ago to mob action. In exchange, prosecutors dropped a reckless homicide charge.
Allen, 32, was working as a bouncer at a Washington Park club on Oct. 3, 2009, where Anthony Rice Jr., 23, the father of two, was run over by a car and killed. Sallerson said Allen “lit the fuse” by throwing a rock or a brick through the windshield of a Monte Carlo that Rice and his brother were in. This led to a melee where shots were fired into the air, causing Allen to flee in his Ford F-150 pick-up truck, running over and killing Rice.
Daley countered that Allen didn’t light the fuse.
“Anthony Rice would be alive today if his friends hadn’t brought a gun to the club,” Daley said.
He noted that Allen had been shot and robbed at the club a year earlier, leaving him fearful.
Rice family members gasped during the testimony of Allen’s children’s mother, April Hammond; his mother, Gail Allen; Allen’s girlfriend, Jody Marsala; and friends.
“He’s a good man and he doesn’t deserve this,” Hammond said. “This whole thing has hurt us, too.”
But Rice’s family spoke first of their loss.
“Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children,” said Rice’s mother, Annette Nash-Smith.
She called Allen “Mr. Untouchable” who thought he was above the law. Allen has been charged with 30 felonies and 22 misdemeanors, although he has been convicted of five. His criminal record begins when Allen was 15 and included weapons, drug, damage to property and aggravated assault charges. Those charges resulted in one stay in prison for three years. She also noted it took more than five years for Allen to plead guilty and be sentenced for the charge. He was free on bond, Nash-Smith noted, enjoying birthdays, holidays and family gatherings.
Rice’s two sons will never know him, his mother said.
“I tried to hate and despise you for what you have done,” Nash-Smith said. “ ... But I forgive you.”
Nash-Smith said Allen will have to answer to God, if not the justice system, for his crimes.
“God sees it all. And you cannot outreach him,” she said.
After Fiss sentenced Allen, Nash-Smith burst into sobs. Angry family members of Rice erupted from their seats, shouting expletives in the hallway.
Fiss sent bailiffs after them to quiet them, adding they could go to jail for contempt.
Outside the courthouse, Rice’s uncle Justin Meehan seemed resolved to the outcome, saying he didn’t expect Allen, who is white, to go to prison to answer for the death of Rice, who is black.
“If (Rice) was white, Allen would be doing six years,” Meehan said.
“You get what you get,” he said as he calmed a young relative. “You want (Reggie Allen) in Belleville, you can have him. We had no confidence we would get justice here.”