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Family Pushes to Exonerate Delco Teen Executed in 1931

DELAWARE COUNTY (CBS) -- A Delaware County Court recently expunged the criminal record of a 16-year-old youth executed 87-years ago. The great-grandson of his appointed lawyer is now pushing for full exoneration.

"This kid was positively railroaded," says Dr. Sam Lemon. He is the great-grandson of William Ridley, the first black lawyer admitted to the Delaware County Bar.

A - William H. Ridley, Esq., circa 1935 - Family Pushes to Exonerate Delco Teen Executed in 1931
William H. Ridley (Credit: Dr. Samuel Lemon)

In 1931, Ridley represented Alexander McClay Williams, a Glenn Mills juvenile charged with the ice pick stabbing of a 34-year-old woman who worked at the prison. He had only two months to prepare the case. Williams, who was black, signed a confession and after a shoddy investigation, was convicted by an all-white jury after a two-day trial and executed six months later.

"Reading the trial testimony you can see how they manipulated him," says Ridley, who learned of the case as a child. He's been haunted by it most of his life and began researching what happened. He has gathered birth and death certificates, spoke to the victim's family, scoured court transcripts and news clippings, and discovered there were a number of red flags.

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"He was interviewed a number of times by the prison without a parent or adult present," says Lemon. "He didn't confess until at least the third time he was interrogated."

Vida Robare -Family Pushes to Exonerate Delco Teen Executed in 1931
Vida Robare (Credit: Dr. Samuel Lemon)

The victim, Vida Robare, was married at the time. Lemon learned she had previously married and divorced the same man because of domestic violence. He says there was no evidence prison officials questioned the husband, even though a bloody hand print on the wall did not match Williams. He published his research in a book titled, "The Case that Shocked the Country."

"There are real questions about a forced confession," says Robert Kelly, an attorney in Delaware County who represents Williams' only surviving sibling, Susie Carter. He says she hired him to clear her brother's name. He hopes to get the governor to pardon Williams or get his sentence vacated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

"I took this case to bring into public awareness some of the injustices of the Delaware County legal system," says Kelly.

He attributes the expungement to cooperation from the Delaware County District Attorney's office. He says there is precedent to wipe the criminal records of the deceased, but it had never been done in a capital case.

"We wanted to keep a public record of the case," says Keller, who notes that all of the evidence has been destroyed.

Kelly says the ultimate goal would have been to re-try the case, but that is now impossible. But the family wants to bring awareness to the plight of Williams. Also, to find his body. Williams was buried in an unmarked grave.

"Justice will never be served here," says Kelly, "but we will do what we can and explore all options."


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