Media, PA – District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer announced today that, following a successful joint motion for a new trial brought by Robert Keller, Esq. and the District Attorney at a hearing before the Honorable Kevin Kelly, the case against Alexander McClay Williams has been nol prossed. By acting to nol pros the case against Williams, today’s decision is an acknowledgement that the charges against him should never have been brought. Williams, a 16- year-old Black student at the Glen Mills School for Boys, was convicted and sentenced to death at the Media Courthouse on February 27, 1931. He remains the youngest person executed in Pennsylvania history.
“Sadly, we cannot undo the past. We cannot rewrite history to erase the egregious wrongs of our forebearers. However, when, as here, justice can be served by publicly acknowledging such a wrong, we must seize that opportunity. Over ninety years have passed since this young man’s conviction. Despite the passage of time, we believe it is in the interest of justice and in upholding the integrity of our courts that we do what is in our power to do to remedy this wrong. It is my hope that with today’s action the family of Alexander McClay Williams and of his defense attorney, William H. Ridley, can be at peace,” said District Attorney Stollsteimer.
On October 3, 1930, Vida Robare, 34, a white house matron at the Glen Mills School for Boys, was found brutally murdered in her cottage on the school grounds. Her body was found by Fred Robare, her estranged ex-husband, who was also an employee at the school. Williams, a 16-year- old juvenile was charged with the crime. Williams had previously been adjudicated delinquent and was serving an indefinite term at Glen Mills.
On October 24, William H. Ridley, Esq., the first African American lawyer to join the Delaware County Bar Association, was appointed to represent the juvenile. During the seventeen days between Williams’ arrest and the appointment of his counsel, the juvenile had signed three separate confessions, and had been interrogated five times without an attorney or parent present. Williams “confessed’ to the crime, despite the lack of eyewitnesses or direct evidence implicating him.
Ridley was given $10 by the Court for expenses (approximately $173 today), and had only 74 days to establish a defense, without the assistance of investigators, experts, or resources. The Commonwealth had assembled a 15-member team to handle the trial, which lasted less than two days. The defendant faced an all-white jury, which found him guilty in less than four hours. No appeal was ever filed.
Susie Carter, Williams’ sole surviving sister, now 92, and defense counsel Ridley’s great- grandson, Sam Lemon, have worked tirelessly for years to demonstrate the inconsistencies in the evidence as well as the unscrupulous manner in which the case was handled. Substantial exculpatory evidence was either ignored or unexamined at trial. For example, the bloody handprint of a full-grown man found near the door of the crime scene was photographed by the Pennsylvania State Police, examined by two fingerprint experts, yet never publicly identified or mentioned at trial. Moreover, investigators did not appear to know that the victim had been granted a divorce from her estranged husband on the grounds of “extreme cruelty”. Yet he was never considered a suspect.
“We certainly recognize that the actions taken in 1930 were before Miranda and Gideon became the law of the land. However, this young man was entitled to the protections of our Constitution, particularly the Fifth Amendment’s protections against self-incrimination and the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel. We believe that this young man’s constitutional protections were violated in an irreparable way,” said Stollsteimer.
In 2017, as a result of Mr. Lemon’s advocacy with his counsel, Robert Keller, Esq., William’s record was expunged.
“Today’s action was only possible because of the work of Sam Lemon and his counsel, Robert Keller, Esq. Mr. Lemon has spent years researching this case, and together with Mr. Keller, he has worked with our office and the courts to find a mechanism for the legal system to redress this heartbreaking miscarriage of justice. They both deserve our thanks for their tenacious pursuit of justice,” said Stollsteimer.
Contact: Margie McAboy, Director of Policy and Public Engagement, Delaware County District Attorney’s Office, 610-579-0429.