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Newall: Between the porn and the PCP, plenty of signs parolee was headed for trouble

The cocaine abuse and the porn addiction could have been enough to get Byron Allen pulled off the street. Then there were the drug-and-alcohol sessions that he missed, and the therapy for his rage and sexual compulsion that he blew off.

Byron Allen
Byron AllenRead moreDelaware County District Attorney's Office

The cocaine abuse and the porn addiction could have been enough to get Byron Allen pulled off the street. Then there were the drug-and-alcohol sessions that he missed, and the therapy for his rage and sexual compulsion that he blew off.

And what to make of that unnerving time in life skills class when he unexpectedly stripped off his shirt?

Most recently, it was PCP - a positive test for the mind-altering drug, the same substance the 37-year-old Southwest Philadelphia man was on in 2002 when he pointed a sawed-off shotgun at police and got sent to prison in the first place.

But by September, Byron Allen was on parole. He'd been out a year, and nothing - not the troubling sexual behavior he first displayed in prison, which had caused officials to treat him as a sexual predator, or the porn obsession and erratic behavior witnessed by parole staff shortly after his release, or the consecutive positive results for cocaine around May and June, or the skipped required treatments - made parole supervisors deem this man a threat.

The PCP left them with a decision to make. But agency supervisors did what they had done for months in the face of Allen's increasingly troubling behavior: They let him walk free.

And a young Kensington woman nearly paid for it with her life.

For all the months Allen was ignoring parole requirements, police now say, he was also on a one-man spree of murder and sexual assault.

Last month, Delaware County authorities charged Allen in the September killing of a 32-year-old Yeadon woman. Allen, police said, followed the woman, a stranger, from an Upper Darby bar. He stabbed her 20 times. The motive, authorities said, was: "sport."

Philadelphia police have charged him with four sexual assaults between last April and October - the last one of the 23-year-old Kensington woman, only two days after he was found with PCP in his system at the parole office in Northwest Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia, police say, he'd lure women who worked as prostitutes, then slit their throats, beat them with bricks, or choke them unconscious. In most cases, he'd sexually assault them.

Police also suspect Allen of the July murder of a Kensington woman.

Three suspected murders, four assaults.

And all those red flags.

Law enforcement officials with knowledge of the case told me that the parole officer assigned to Allen's case had expressed frustration that Allen was not taken off the street earlier - if just for inpatient drug treatment - but that the officer could not spur his supervisors to action. (The board ordered Allen arrested in October after police identified him as a suspect in the crimes.)

This fits with what parole agents have been telling me for a few years: In the state's effort to decrease swelled prison populations - and reduce recidivism rates - it's harder to lock up some people who really should be off the streets.

The pendulum has swung so far. The things that used to immediately land a parolee in handcuffs, like PCP, don't now.

When I inquired about the case, Leo Dunn, chairman of the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole, wrote that he couldn't comment. Neither could the supervisors who kept Allen on the street. Dunn called the case a "tragic situation" and said that the board had launched an internal investigation to "ensure no policies were violated." Parole policies do not mandate that drug violations alone require automatic re-incarceration, he said, but he added that they "will review the case to see what lessons may be learned to improve the system."

We've been here before.

Like back in 2012, when Police Officer Moses Walker Jr. was killed by Rafael Jones, a parolee who'd been released 10 days earlier. I wrote how parole officials had failed to fit Jones with an electronic monitoring device or lock him up after he failed a drug test. Hearings were held, three officials were fired (one of whom has her job back). Reforms were put in place.

Former Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner, who now serves as the city's deputy managing director for criminal justice, says that move toward treatment and rehab nationwide reflects recognition that for too long we have been locking up people for longer than necessary. Excessive incarceration is not only expensive, he notes. It destroys families and communities.

Though he hasn't reviewed Allen's case, he said the system shouldn't be judged by one person's experience. But every case, he said, must be handled with "careful individual evaluation of all the facts and circumstances that shed light on whether an individual is a danger to the community."

Five years ago it was a dead police officer. And now it may be seven women attacked or dead.

It's hard to see how anyone who looked at the facts didn't see Byron Allen as a threat.