In 1931, an all-white jury found Black boy Alexander McClay Williams guilty of stabbing to death a white house matron at the Glen Mills School for Boys in Delaware County in barely four hours. Williams, who was 16 at the time, was hanged five months later, making him the youngest person executed in Pennsylvania history.
His family has spent decades attempting to show that he was wrongfully condemned. Williams was vindicated posthumously on Monday, June 13, 2022. His murder conviction was overturned by a Delaware County judge. After a successful joint motion, District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer announced that the case against Williams had been dismissed.
A representative for the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office commented, “By acting to nol pros the case against Williams, today’s decision is an admission that the accusations against him should never have been pursued.”
“Unfortunately, we can’t change the past. “We can’t go back in time and undo our forefathers’ terrible wrongs,” Stollsteimer remarked. “However, where justice may be served by openly admitting a wrong, as now, we must grasp that opportunity.”
In the same courthouse where Williams was condemned 91 years earlier, the murder conviction was overturned. The great-grandson of the lawyer who represented Williams at trial assisted in the decision on Monday. William Ridley, Sam Lemon’s great-grandfather and the county’s first Black attorney, was allowed only $10 and 74 days to prove that Williams did not murder Vida Robare, a white matron.
Robare, 34, was discovered dead inside a hut at the Glen Mills School for Boys on October 3, 1930. She had been stabbed 47 times with an icepick and had broken ribs and a cracked head as a result of the attack. Her ex-husband Fred Robare, who was also a school employee, discovered her body. Despite the fact that he was the last person seen with her and had a history of domestic abuse against her, no one considered him a suspect in her death.
Williams, on the other hand, was portrayed as the assassin. After lighting a fire that burned a barn and burglarizing a post office when he was 12, the young lad was transferred to Glen Mills (which functioned as a juvenile detention center).
Williams was detained and charged with Robare’s assassination. On October 24, 1930, Ridley was selected to represent Williams. Between Williams’ arrest and Ridley’s appointment, the kid “signed three separate murder confessions and had been interrogated five times without an attorney or parent present,” according to NBC Philadelphia.
“Williams ‘admitted’ to the crime, despite the lack of eyewitnesses or clear evidence accusing him,” a representative for the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office noted.
After the trial, which lasted less than two days, no appeal was ever filed. Lemon also discovered 30 years ago that evidence that could have aided Williams’ case had been overlooked. Despite the fact that a man’s bloody handprint was discovered at the site, prosecutors did not present it at trial, he claimed. Williams was also nowhere near the crime site, according to Lemon, and could not have killed the matron in the 20-minute period stated by officials.
“Williams was supposed to have taken about 15 actions, including going to and from the crime scene; attempting to break into a storage locker; attacking Robare in her room; dropping his hat in a massive pool of blood; taking her keys and throwing them in a pond; hiding the icepick in a hole in the wall; washing the blood from his hands and hat; returning to the area of the school where he was working without a drop of blood on him,” Lemon said.
Lemon told the newspaper, “The only way he could have done this crime is if he could halt time.”
Lemon contacted attorney Robert Keller around seven years ago, and Keller worked pro gratis to assist him get the verdict overturned. Lemon also collaborated with Williams’ lone surviving sister, 92-year-old Susie Carter, to demonstrate that there had been a legal error. Williams’ record was eventually wiped in 2017.
Following Monday’s decision, Lemon said it feels like a huge burden has been lifted from his shoulders.
“All we wanted was for it to be overturned because we knew he was innocent, and now we want everyone else to know it as well,” Williams’ sister Susie Carter told The Philadelphia Inquirer.