YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Nation

Police Taunts Detailed in '69 Killing

Trial: Man at rally says a defendant's actions led him to think someone was 'backing us up.'

October 03, 2002|From Associated Press

YORK, Pa. — Police officers told scores of white gang members to protect their neighborhood before chanting "white power!" with their fists thrust in the air, witnesses testified Wednesday in the trial of three men charged with killing a young black woman during a 1969 race riot.

One of the officers, Charlie Robertson, 68, is charged with murder along with two other men who prosecutors say were members of the white gangs that gunned down Lillie Belle Allen, 27.

Robertson, who went on to become a two-term mayor of this central Pennsylvania city, is accused of inciting gang members to violence against blacks and handing out ammunition to at least one of the gunmen at a rally before the slaying.

"I got the impression from Mr. Robertson's actions that we were kind of in the right and we had somebody backing us up," testified Stewart Aldinger, who was 15 when he attended the gang rally.

One night later, a white mob shot Allen to death as she tried to help her panicking sister turn the family's car around on Newberry Street in the predominantly white Cottage Hill neighborhood.

While Robertson has admitted that he shouted "white power!" during the rally, he denies the accusations and has apologized for his behavior, saying he no longer harbors racist beliefs.

Aldinger and another former gang member, Fred Flickinger, appeared in front of the all-white jury on the second day of testimony.

After the rally, Robertson drove to a corner cigar shop used as a gang hangout, said Flickinger, who was 20 at the time.

"You know, if I weren't a cop, I'd be out leading commando raids" in the black neighborhoods, Flickinger said Robertson told gang members who gathered around him.

Robertson's lead attorney, William Costopoulos, told reporters later that none of the witnesses said Robertson had encouraged them to commit a criminal act. "It's not murder," Costopoulos said.

Allen's slaying came on the fifth day of the riots and three days after a white patrolman was shot in a black neighborhood.

The patrolman, Henry Schaad, 22, died Aug. 1, 1969. Two black men will stand trial in his death later.

Defense attorneys argued that the residents of Newberry Street were paranoid because black youths had driven a Cadillac into the neighborhood to stage a drive-by shooting and later delivered what was perceived as a threat of violence. They said Allen's shooting was an unfortunate coincidence.

Russell Wantz, a witness to the shooting, recalled the barrage of shots.

"The tires were shot out, the windows were shot out from the car," he testified. "It was like war."

Another witness, Robert Stoner, said that after the smoke cleared, he saw the outline of the Cadillac riddled with bullets and next to it, Allen's body.

Stoner also said he saw Robertson's co-defendants, Robert Messersmith and Gregory Neff, and both were carrying long-barreled guns in full view of Robertson and other police officers who arrived soon after.

Stoner testified that he saw Robertson speaking with at least one armed youth, but that police neither made any arrests nor took any statements.

Los Angeles Times Articles