Alexander McClay Williams, executed 91 years ago at age 16 for a crime he didn’t commit, has been acquitted in the United States.
A Philadelphia judge declared the sentence “nolle prosequi”, officially dropping all charges against this young black man accused of murder.
The dropping of the charges against Williams “is an acknowledgment that the charges against him should never have occurred,” prosecutor Jack Stollsteimer said in a June 13 statement.
“Unfortunately, we cannot undo the past. We cannot rewrite history to erase the heinous mistakes of our ancestors. However, when, as in this case, justice can be done by publicly acknowledging our mistake, we must seize this opportunity,” said the district Attorney.
Williams was sent to Glen Mills boarding school for boys. He was found guilty of murdering 34-year-old nurse Vida Robare, who worked at the site.
The lifeless body was found by her ex-husband Fred Robare, who was also a school employee. The woman broke up due to Fred’s “extreme cruelty”, which was ignored by investigators, who never considered him a suspect.
There were fingerprints from an adult’s bloodied hand on the crime scene door. Two fingerprint experts examined them, but it was never clear who they belonged to.
Williams was considered a suspect. He was arrested and, over the next 17 days, signed three different confessions and was interrogated five times without a lawyer or family member present.
The young man ended up “confessing” to the crime despite there being no witnesses or evidence that directly involved him.
It was then that he was appointed a defense attorney: William H. Ridley, the first black man to join the Delaware County Bar.
The defense attorney received $10 in court expenses (about $173 in today’s dollars), and had only 74 days to mount a defense, with no resources to hire investigators or experts.
The jury in the trial, which lasted less than two days, was composed entirely of whites, who took less than four hours to establish their guilt.
There was never an appeal against the decision.
In 2017, the case returned to justice at the hands of Sam Lemon, great-grandson of the lawyer who defended Williams at the time.
“We believe that it is in the interests of justice and the defense of the integrity of our courts to do everything in our power to remedy this error”, since the rights of the young man “have been irremediably violated”.
“I’m glad it ended the way it was supposed to from the beginning,” Susie Wiliam-Carter, sister of Alexander McClay William, told The Inquirer.
“We wanted it overturned, because we knew he was innocent, and now we want the whole world to know it too,” says Susie, 92, the only survivor of the executed youth.
Another man, Kevin Strickland, was recently acquitted after spending 43 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.