Man executed 91 years ago found innocent

He had been sentenced to death and executed at 16 for murder: 91 years later, a court in Pennsylvania, in the eastern United States, this week recognized the innocence of Alexander McClay Williams, giving justice to this African-American and his only surviving 92-year-old sister.

“I’m just glad it ended the way it should have started,” Susie Williams-Carter, the teenager’s sister, was quoted by The Philadelphia Inquirer as saying on Thursday. “We knew he was innocent, now we want everyone to know.”

“We cannot rewrite history. (…) But when justice can be done by publicly acknowledging such an error, we must seize the opportunity,” said Delaware County Attorney Jack Stollsteimer, for his part.

The prosecutor spoke in a press release following the dismissal of the case by a county judge on Monday, in favor of Alexander McClay Williams, after years of proceedings.

“This decision is recognition that the charges against him should never have been,” added the prosecutor, recalling that the teenager, executed on February 27, 1931, remained the youngest boy in the history of this state to suffer the death penalty.

On October 3, 1930, the husband of Vida Robare, a white head of the “Glen Mills School for Boys”, a detention center for young delinquents, had found the body of his wife, “brutally murdered” in her chalet, in the enclosure of the establishment, recalls the office of the prosecutor.

Quickly charged, 16-year-old Alexander McClay Williams, who was serving a sentence in the facility, had signed confessions three times during five interrogations without the presence of a lawyer or a relative, “despite the absence of witnesses eye or direct evidence”, adds the same source.

His later-appointed attorney, William Ridley, the county bar’s first African-American, had no resources to prepare for trial and “the defendant faced an all-white jury, who convicted him in less four hours”, continues the prosecutor’s office.

Jack Stollsteimer pays tribute to the “tireless, for years” work of the boy’s sister and the lawyer’s great-grandson to show “the inconsistencies” of the file, as elements that can exculpate the accused , yet ignored.

The prosecutor cites this “bloody handprint of an adult male found near the door to the crime scene, photographed by the police”, but “never mentioned at trial”. Or the existence of another suspect, the former husband of Vida Robare, from whom she had obtained a divorce “for” extreme cruelty “”.

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