In what has left tongues wagging on the credibility of the judicial system, an African-American teen executed in 1931 for the murder of a white woman has been exonerated by a Pennsylvania court, after decades of lobbying by his only surviving sister.
Reports have it that 16-year-old Alexander McClay Williams was convicted by a white jury in just four hours, and remains the youngest person ever put to death in the eastern US state.
Sadly, a county judge has dismissed the case and declared Williams was innocent, 91 years later.
Reacting to the judgement, Williams’ sister, Susie Williams-Carter, who was quoted by the Philadelphia Inquirer, said “I’m just happy that it finally turned out the way it should have in the beginning”.
The 92-year-old added that “We just wanted it overturned because we knew he was innocent, and now we want everyone else to know it, too”.
In a statement obtained by newsmen, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer confirmed that the case has been dismissed after years of litigation.
According to the statement, the decision “is an acknowledgement that the charges against him should never have been brought”.
Reports had it that on October 3, 1930, the estranged ex-husband of Vida Robare, a white matron at the Glen Mills School for Boys, a detention center for young offenders, found Robare’s body.
The district attorney’s statement said she had been “brutally murdered” in her cottage, which was on the school’s grounds. The ex-husband, Fred Robare, also worked at the school.
Williams, who was serving an indefinite term at Glenn Mills, was charged with the crime.
The statement said after he was interrogated five times without the presence of a lawyer or a parent, he signed three confessions — “despite the lack of eyewitnesses or direct evidence implicating him”.
When he was finally appointed a lawyer, it was William H. Ridley, the first African-American member of the county bar.
The statement continued that “Ridley was given $10 by the Court for expenses (approximately $173 today), and had only 74 days to establish a defense, without the assistance of investigators, experts, or resources”.
“The Commonwealth had assembled a 15-member team to handle the trial, which lasted less than two days. The defendant faced an all-white jury, which found him guilty in less than four hours. No appeal was ever filed.”
The case is the latest recognition of historic racial injustices in the US legal system, which convicted and, in several cases executed innocent Americans, many of them Black, in the century following the 1861-1865 Civil War.
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