YORK, Pa. – Four white men pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges Aug. 14 in the shooting death of a Black woman during a 1969 lynch attack on the city’s African-American community.

The four were among 10 people, including former York Mayor Charlie Robertson, who were charged with murder in the killing of Lillie Belle Allen on July 21, 1969. Robertson, a city police officer at the time of the riots, is the only suspect who has not been accused of shooting at the victim.

In exchange for their pleas on murder conspiracy charges, murder charges were dropped against Rick Knouse, Clarence Lutzsinger, William Ritter and Tom Smith. Judge John C. Uhler said he would have to review their pre-sentencing reports before formally accepting the pleas.

“The most important thing … has been to get the shooter and those most culpable,” in Allen’s death, York County prosecutor Tom Kelley said.

Jury selection had been scheduled to begin Sept. 23 for the nine suspects arrested last year who were to be tried together. A 10th suspect was charged in July.

Robertson’s attorney, William Costopoulos, said he still expected the former mayor to go to trial.

Robertson was charged while he was serving as mayor of the city of 41,000, located about 80 miles west of Philadelphia. He has denied accusations that he handed out ammunition on the day of Allen’s murder and told members of white gangs to shoot as many Blacks as they could.

The former mayor has acknowledged yelling “white power!” at a rally the night before Allen was killed, but says he had no involvement in the killing. He has also said he no longer has racist attitudes.

In court, Smith admitted serving as a lookout, while the other three said they shot at Allen’s car.

Knouse and Lutzsinger said members of the police force had provided support to the gangs involved in the shooting, and Knouse said he shot at Allen’s car using a bullet Robertson had given to him. Lutzsinger said gang members felt the police had given them license to arm themselves.

“The cops told us it was OK … They were behind us,” Lutzsinger said.

The riots began after a white gang member shot and injured a Black man. Fights broke out, buildings were set ablaze and police barricaded Black neighborhoods. More than 60 people were injured and 100 arrested before the National Guard rolled into town with tanks.

Allen, 27, and family members were driving in a car through the neighborhood of a white racist gang during the military occupation of the city. She got out of the car, waved her arms, and yelled “don’t shoot” before being shot, authorities said.

She was one of two people killed in the 10 days of disturbances. A white rookie police officer was shot days earlier. Two Black men were charged last year in the officer’s murder; that case is pending.

Allen’s sister, Hattie Dickson, who was with her on the night of the shooting, attended the court hearing Wednesday. Dickson said she accepted the fact that prosecutors needed to strike a deal with some of the suspects to prosecute those who she says were not willing to tell the truth.

“All I’m looking for is the truth,” she said. “The door has been opened, and I thank God for that.”

Tags:

Comments

comments

MOST POPULAR