- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2002

YORK, Pa. (AP) A former mayor and two other white men went on trial on murder charges yesterday with a prosecutor saying all three played a role in the ambush slaying of a young black woman during a 1969 race riot.
Standing trial are Charlie Robertson, a police officer at the time of the riots who went on to become mayor, and two men who prosecutors say were members of white gangs that attacked the car carrying Lillie Belle Allen, a preacher's daughter visiting from Aiken, S.C.
Miss Allen, a 27-year-old seamstress, was gunned down by a mob, her body nearly cut in half. Her case was re-opened in 1999, along with that of a slain patrolman, the only other person killed in the rioting.
According to prosecutor Thomas Kelley, police had struck an alliance with white gang members, eager to get revenge for the shooting of the patrolman on the second day of rioting.
Three days later, Miss Allen and four family members, on their way to the grocery store after a day of fishing, turned their white Cadillac into a white neighborhood where armed gang members had gathered, Mr. Kelley said.
"Lillie Belle Allen was proceeding into the bowels of hell," he told the panel of 12 white jurors.
Defense attorneys argued that the 96-member police force was overwhelmed and had advised residents to protect themselves. They also said people in the neighborhood where Miss Allen was killed had been shot at by occupants of a white Cadillac twice in two preceding days.
The shooting "was just a tragedy that could not be duplicated," said attorney Harry Ness, who is defending Gregory Neff.
According to court records, Mr. Neff told a grand jury that he fired at Miss Allen's vehicle three times. The other defendant, Robert Messersmith, supposedly fired the shotgun slug that killed Miss Allen.
Mr. Robertson has acknowledged that he shouted "white power" at a rally to unify members of warring white gangs the night before Miss Allen was shot. He has denied the other accusations against him that he incited whites to violence against blacks and provided ammunition to at least one of the shooters.
Mr. Robertson's lead attorney, William Costopoulos, said prosecutors are relying on faulty testimony by a former gang member who pleaded guilty in the case. He also said ammunition that was reportedly provided by Mr. Robertson was not fired with the intent to kill Miss Allen.
"They don't have a case and they never did," Mr. Costopoulos said, deriding prosecutors as "tweaking" testimony and wanting to "rewrite history."
Jurors have the option to convict or acquit the defendants on charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or, if the judge allows it, voluntary manslaughter. First-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life.

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