A judge on Tuesday upheld the charges against Mayor Charlie Robertson and eight other white men accused in the 1969 killing of a black woman, rejecting the defense's argument that too much time had passed to allow a fair trial for the men.
Robertson and the other defendants were charged earlier this year with the murder of Lillie Belle Allen on July 21, 1969, during a 10-day riot. Bucks County Judge Edward G. Biester said the delay in making arrests was justified because new information uncovered by prosecutors last year gave them a legitimate reason to reopen the case.
Biester also said he would not certify his decision, which would have entitled defense attorneys to immediately appeal his ruling to the state Superior Court.
"This case has been delayed long enough," Biester said.
Seven of the nine defendants, including Robertson, appeared in court Tuesday. Several members of Allen's family also attended the hearing.
When the hearing began last month, defense attorneys argued that it would be impossible for their clients to receive a fair trial because of the lengthy delay between the killing and the arrests.
They said that some witnesses who might exonerate the defendants are now dead, memories have faded, and that important evidence, including the bullet fragment that killed Allen, the car she was riding in and the clothes she was wearing the day of the murder have been lost or destroyed.
"The 30-year delay has not only blurred what happened back then ... but has also blurred why the killings were not prosecuted back then," William Costopoulos, Robertson's lawyer, said in his closing arguments Tuesday. "Thirty years have come and gone, and Charlie Robertson has been prejudiced because of that delay. I'd like to end this nightmare for him today."
The defense asked Biester to find that the prosecution's delay was either intentional, negligent or the result of a policy change in the district attorney's office.
They asked Biester to find that the prosecution's delay was either intentional, negligent or the result of a policy change in the district attorney's office.
Prosecutors tried to show Biester that they unearthed enough new evidence in their recent investigation launched last year after newspaper coverage of the unsolved murders generated new leads to warrant their pursuit of the case. They also said the defendants failed to produce any evidence proving that the delay hurts their ability to mount a defense.
Biester was assigned to hear the case in York County Common Pleas court after Judge John Uhler recused himself, citing his status as a former York County district attorney.
All the defendants except Robertson are accused of firing at a car in which Allen was riding on the fourth night of the riots. Robertson, who was a city police officer in 1969, is accused of handing out bullets and encouraging whites to kill blacks before Allen was shot. All the defendants have pleaded innocent.
Alle, 27, a preacher's daughter from South Carolina, was visiting relatives in York when she was killed.
York Police Officer Henry Schaad also was fatally shot while on patrol during the disturbances; two black men were arrested last month and charged with his killing. A preliminary hearing for both men is scheduled to begin Wednesday.
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