It’s all in the family for descendants of William Ridley, Delaware County, the first Black lawyer admitted to the Bar of Delaware County. Sam Lemon, Ridley’s great grandson, finished what his ancestor started when a judge overturned a conviction for Alexander McClay Williams, achieving justice for his great grandfather’s former client.
Williams was only 16-years-old when he “was accused of brutally killing an attractive white matron at his reform school.” The victim, Vida Robare, was stabbed 47 times with an ice pick, subsequently suffering two broken ribs in addition to a fractured skull. Despite the fact that Robare had recently divorced her ex-husband, Fred Robare “on grounds of ‘extreme cruelty’” and abusive behavior, police neglected to include Fred, who also worked at the school, as a person of suspicion in their investigation.
After nine decades, the case against Williams was dismissed last week. In an unprecedented move. Similar to a midnight justice, in his final hours as Delaware County President Judge, Kelly “granted a motion for a retrial” and the DA instantaneously “moved to dismiss the charges.” Ultimately, overturned Williams’ conviction, and fulfilled Lemon’s goal of redemption for his and Williams’ families.
Jack Stollsteimer, the Delaware County District Attorney released a statement, this “is an acknowledgement that the charges against him should never have been brought.” After facing an interrogation five times without a parent nor lawyer present, Williams signed three confessions under duress, “despite the lack of eyewitnesses or direct evidence implicating him.”
Stollsteimer’s statement continued, “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 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…We believe that this young man’s constitutional protections were violated in an irreparable way.”
Local attorney Robert Keller, who worked with Lemon, said, “We had a judge who wasn’t afraid to [acknowledge] this and to recognize that the history of our county had this horrible thing happen, and that it’s important that we bring it to the publics’ attention…It’s a stain on our state and it’s a stain on the criminal justice system here in Delaware County.”
He stated that the case was swept under the rug until Lemon sought redemption for his great-grandfather.
To this date, Williams “remains the youngest person ever put to death in” the state of Pennsylvania. Williams’ sister, Susie Williams-Carter, now 92, spoke with the Philadelphia Inquirer after the exoneration. She said, “I’m just happy that it finally turned out the way it should have in the beginning…We just wanted it overturned, because we knew he was innocent, and now we want everyone else to know it, too.”