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Record of Pa. teen executed in 1931 expunged

Written by The Associated Press | May 15, 2017 1:07 AM
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(Media) -- A suburban Philadelphia judge has expunged the criminal record of a 16-year-old youth executed more than eight and one-half decades ago for the murder of a matron at a school for adjudicated youth.

Attorney Robert Keller told the Delaware County Daily Times (http://bit.ly/2r62liy ) that the May 10 order by Delaware County Judge John Capuzzi vacates the criminal record of Alexander McClay Williams but keeps the court file and docket intact.

"We wanted the criminal record expunged and at the same time we wanted the court file and docket to remain so that we have a historical record of the case," said Keller, who represents the family. "We want the public to be aware of the trial and for them to be able to view the timeline from the date of conviction and the time of arrest, and how quickly he was put to death."

Williams, who was black, was accused of killing 34-year-old Vida Robare on Oct. 3, 1930 at the Glen Mills School for Boys. Her husband reported finding the victim, who was white, slain in the second-floor bedroom of on-site cottage. She had been stabbed 47 times with an icepick and also had a fractured skull and broken ribs. Williams, who confessed under police interrogation, was convicted in a two-day trial by an all-white jury that deliberated for four hours. He was executed June 8, 1931, about six weeks short of his 17th birthday.

Defense attorney William Ridley, who was black, was assigned the case, but Keller said he had just two months to mount a defense. His great-grandson, Sam Lemon, has written a book after decades of research called "The Case That Shocked The Country."

Lemon said Williams confessed in his third interrogation, during which no parent or attorney was present. Two forensic psychologists looked at the case and concluded that the youth probably had some mental issues, but no history of violence, he said. Other suspects weren't investigated, and a bloody handprint at the scene was apparently never compared with others at the school, as originally proposed.

About a dozen boys were unaccounted for at various points during the day, including Williams, who was supposed to have killed Robare during a 20-minute period, Lemon said. During that time Williams was supposed to have traveled to and from the crime scene, tried to break into a storage locker, taken her keys and thrown them into a pond, hidden the icepick in a hole in the wall, washed blood from his hands and hat, and then returned to his work area without a drop of blood on him, he said.

"The only way he could have done this crime is if he could stop time," Lemon said.

District Attorney Jack Whelan, who helped draft the order, said he was willing to work with Keller to expunge whatever he legally could, but declined comment on the guilt or innocence of Williams. "I think it was a fair way to try to address the issue the attorney and family had raised," he said.

Lemon said he hopes the Pennsylvania Supreme Court may take up the case and reverse the conviction. Keller, however, said he isn't hopeful about that option because all of the evidence has been destroyed, leaving only "a cold transcript" and timeline.

Lemon and Whelan also brought up the idea of seeking a pardon from the governor, although he noted that such a process can take years. Lemon said he would also like to locate the boy's unmarked grave somewhere in Greenhill Cemetery.

"I feel very strongly that this kid was executed for a crime he did not commit," he said. "And I think that there has to be something more than taking that conviction off the books on a county level."

Susie Carter, Williams' sister and sole surviving relative, said she believes he was "a scapegoat for somebody." Now 87, she was a baby when Williams was executed but said she saw the grief that his death caused their mother. She vowed to continue working for his full exoneration.

"Whatever it takes," she said. "I may not be alive to see it, but whatever it takes."

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