- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 20, 2002

YORK, Pa. (AP) The mayor who declined to seek a third term because of a murder charge was acquitted and two other men were convicted yesterday in the shotgun slaying of a young black woman during race riots that tore this colonial city apart in 1969. The verdicts have almost closed the books on a crime that has haunted the city for more than three decades.
Charlie Robertson, 68, had faced life in prison before his acquittal by the all-white jury.
The former mayor and two other men were tried in the death of Lillie Belle Allen, a preacher's daughter from Aiken, S.C., who was gunned down by a white mob July 21, 1969. Robert Messersmith and Greg Neff were convicted of second-degree murder and face a maximum sentence of life in prison; jurors had the option of convicting them of manslaughter.
The long-unsolved case is nearly finished: Of the 10 white men charged in Miss Allen's slaying, six pleaded guilty earlier and await sentencing. The final suspect faces trial later.
The case was dormant for years before prosecutors, saying they had new information, opened it again in 1999. Many in this faded manufacturing city of 40,000 in south-central Pennsylvania, which bills itself as the "first capital" of the United States, worried openly that the investigation and trial would reopen old racial wounds.
The riots, touched off by simmering violence between white and black youths, left Miss Allen dead, white patrolman Henry Schaad mortally wounded, more than 60 other people injured and blocks burned. About 400 National Guardsmen and state police troopers quelled the violence.
Mr. Robertson, a police officer during the riots, later became a popular two-term mayor. Prosecutors said Messersmith and Neff were members of the white gangs that ambushed the car carrying Miss Allen, 27, and four relatives.
Prosecutors said Mr. Robertson handed out ammunition to at least one of the gunmen in an effort to even the score for the shooting of the patrolman three days before Miss Allen was slain.
One of the men who pleaded guilty, Rick Knouse, testified that Mr. Robertson gave him 30.06 rifle ammunition and told him to "kill as many" blacks as he could.
Mr. Robertson admitted shouting "white power" at a gang rally the day before Miss Allen's killing, but he denied the other accusations. He has apologized for his views back then, saying the mugging of his father by three black men when he was a youth affected him deeply.
Messersmith, 53, was accused of firing the shot that killed Miss Allen, and Neff, 54, was accused of shooting at the white Cadillac carrying Miss Allen, her sister, brother-in-law and parents.
The family was on its way to the grocery store when the car turned into a predominantly white neighborhood where armed youths had girded for war with blacks. The car stalled, and Miss Allen was shot when she climbed out to take the wheel from a relative.
Witnesses said Messersmith later bragged about the slaying.
Mr. Robertson was the first officer to arrive at the murder scene. Though he credited himself with saving the lives of Miss Allen's relatives, he and three other officers did not disarm gang members, take witness statements nor file a report.
"Everyone knew who was involved," Mr. Robertson told Time magazine last year, "but everyone just thought it was even. One black had been killed and one white even."
None of the three defendants testified at the trial.
Defense attorneys said there was no definitive proof that any of the three men killed Miss Allen, and they ridiculed prosecution witnesses. Those who pleaded guilty in the case were testifying in hopes of winning leniency at sentencing, the defense said, and others had poor memories.


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