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Mayor Faces Trial in '69 Race Killing

July 04, 2001|From Reuters

YORK, Pa. — A judge on Tuesday ordered the mayor and five other white men to stand trial for the killing of a black woman shot by a white mob as race riots swept this small industrial city in 1969.

York County Senior Judge Emanuel Cassimatis ordered Mayor Charlie Robertson, a former York policeman, and his co-defendants to stand trial for the death of Lillie Belle Allen, 27.

The mother of two was shot to death after her family car strayed into a neighborhood of heavily armed whites on the night of July 21, 1969, after four days of rioting.

"For 32 years, we waited for this moment," said Allen's sister Hattie Dickson, the driver of the car. "I feel that truth and justice will prevail in all of this."

Formal arraignment for Robertson, Robert Messersmith, Arthur Messersmith, Chauncey Gladfelter, Thomas Smith and William Ritter was scheduled for July 23. They are free on bail. Prosecutors said they plan to seek life sentences against all six.

Robertson, 67, a popular two-term Democrat, has denied the charges and refused to step down despite repeated calls for his resignation. "I am innocent of these charges," the mayor said at a news conference on the steps of City Hall after the ruling. "I have faith in the legal system and that I will ultimately be found innocent."

York County prosecutor Timothy Barker said the evidence against the defendants is clear and convincing.

During a preliminary hearing, one defendant testified that Robertson, who was a police officer in 1969, gave him ammunition and told him to kill as many blacks as possible. Some of the ammunition was later fired at Allen, eyewitnesses said in court affidavits.

Robert Messersmith, a 52-year-old disabled man from Philadelphia who was described by witnesses as a former leader of a white teenage gang in York, is accused of firing the gun that killed Allen, who was visiting from Aiken, S.C.

The rioting that erupted that summer brought National Guard tanks into the streets. Hundreds were arrested.

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