An African-American teen executed in 1931 for the murder of a white woman has been exonerated by a Pennsylvania court following a lengthy legal battle by his only surviving sister.
Alexander McClay Williams was 16 when he was convicted by a white jury in just four hours, becoming the youngest person ever to be put to death by US judicial authorities.
In an interesting twist, 91 years on, the court earlier this week overturned the verdict and acquitted him.
“I’m just happy that it finally turned out the way it should have in the beginning,” his sister Susie Williams-Carter was quoted as saying by the Philadelphia Inquirer on Thursday.
“We just wanted it overturned because we knew he was innocent, and now we want everyone else to know it too,” the 92-year-old said.
Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer confirmed in a statement that the case was dismissed on Monday, after years of litigation.
The decision “is an acknowledgment that the charges against him should never have been brought,” the statement said.
The case bears eloquent testimony to gross injustices the American judicial system represents, especially towards colored people.
Throughout the country’s history, many innocent black people have been sent to gallows through unfair verdicts, making a mockery of international laws.
On October 3, 1930, the estranged ex-husband of Vida Robare, a white matron at the Glen Mills School for Boys, a detention center for young offenders, had found Robare’s body.
She had been “brutally murdered” in her cottage, which was on the school’s grounds, the district attorney’s statement said.
The ex-husband, Fred Robare, also worked at the school.
Williams, who was serving an indefinite term at Glenn Mills, was charged with the crime.
After five hearings, the court forced him to sign three confessions without the presence of a lawyer or his parents, even though there was no evidence to prove the charges against him.
When he was finally given a lawyer, it turned out to be William H. Ridley, the first African-American member of the county bar.
“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 statement said.
“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.”
Stollsteimer paid tribute to the Williams’ sister and Ridley’s great-grandson, who “worked tirelessly for years to demonstrate the inconsistencies in the evidence as well as the unscrupulous manner in which the case was handled.”
“We believe that this young man’s constitutional protections were violated in an irreparable way,” said Stollsteimer.
The crimes against people of color in the United States surged alarmingly during the previous administration headed by Donald Trump. The ominous trend has only continued under Joe Biden.
More than a month ago, an 18-year-old white American with racist motives killed 10 African Americans at a supermarket in a largely Black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York.
His trial was held for the first time on Thursday, and the young American openly admitted that he had a racist motive in this crime.
Despite the defendant’s confession, the US court has asked the Biden government to decide on his sentence.
Biden repeatedly stated that he decided to challenge Trump in 2020 after the Republican president equivocated in his reaction to violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
But, human rights experts believe Biden’s actions mirror that of his predecessor as crimes against African-Americans continue across the country.