YORK, PA., mayor surrenders on murder charge in 1969 race riot

Thursday, May 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

YORK, Pa. (AP) _ Mayor Charlie Robertson surrendered Thursday on a murder charge in the 1969 shooting death of a black woman during race riots. An affidavit quotes a co-defendant as saying Robertson gave him ammunition he used to fire at her car and told him to kill blacks.

Robertson, who was a police officer in 1969, has admitted yelling ``white power'' at a rally the night before the woman was killed, but has denied involvement in her death.

The 67-year-old mayor was arraigned and handcuffed as he was led to the York County Courthouse for a bail hearing, after which he was released on $50,000 bond. A preliminary hearing was set for May 25.

The mayor insisted he is innocent.

``I am not a racist,'' Robertson said after his release. ``My job is to comfort and heal the city of York.''

``It's changed'' in the 32 years since the riots, he said. ``The whole community changed for the better.''

In the affidavit, Rick Knouse, one of five other white men charged in the case, told a grand jury that Robertson gave him ammunition for his 30.06 hunting rifle and instructed him to ``kill as many niggers as you can.''

Knouse said he used the ammunition to fire on the car in which the victim, 27-year-old Lillie Belle Allen, was riding when she was killed, according to the affidavit.

According to the affidavit, Dennis McMaster, who like Robertson was a York police officer in 1969, also said he saw Robertson giving 30.06 bullets to either Robert or Arthur Messersmith, two brothers who were the first to be arrested in the case last month.

The mayor himself told the grand jury he borrowed a 30.06 rifle and ammunition from a neighbor and took it on patrol with him after Henry Schaad, a white rookie police officer, was shot three days before Allen was slain on July 21, 1969. The affidavit did not elaborate on the mayor's own testimony.

Just Tuesday, the mayor defeated City Councilman Ray Crenshaw, the first black to run for the office in city history, in a close Democratic primary. Robertson is seeking a third four-year term.

Prosecutor Tom Kelley has declined to comment, citing a gag order. Robertson's attorney has said the mayor is being politically targeted.

Robertson has faced speculation about his involvement in Allen's death since the Messersmiths were arrested last month.

Court papers released earlier referred to a police officer who screamed ``white power!'' at a rally, provided ammunition to at least one of the men who fired on Allen's car and urged ``commando raids'' in black neighborhoods. While admitting to saying ``white power,'' Robertson has denied the other allegations.

The affidavit released Thursday said a witness quoted Robertson as saying, ``If I weren't a cop, I'd be leading commando raids against niggers in the black neighborhoods.''

Police said Allen, a native of Aiken, S.C., and family members had driven into the neighborhood of a white gang during one night of rioting. Allen got out of the car, waved her arms and yelled ``don't shoot'' but was hit by a bullet, investigators said.

The riots, which lasted 10 days, began after a white gang member shot and wounded a young black man in the city 85 miles west of Philadelphia. More than 60 people were injured, 100 were arrested and entire city blocks were burned.

Although Robertson has denied any responsibility for Allen's death, he has said he had racist feelings after his father was mugged by three black men in the 1950s.

``I tried so hard when I was a police officer not to let that interfere,'' Robertson told the York Daily Record. But he said the police department had a culture of racism in the 1960s.

The inquiry in York follows cases reopened by Southern prosecutors and civil rights advocates. Earlier this month, ex-Ku Klux Klansman Thomas Blanton Jr. was sentenced to life in prison for the 1963 bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., church in which four black girls were killed.