Family of Teen Executed, Then Exonerated: 'They Need to Pay'

Alexander McClay Williams was exonerated of murder in 2022, nearly a century after he died
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 21, 2024 1:09 PM CDT
Family of Teen Executed, Then Exonerated: 'They Need to Pay'
Lawyer Joseph Marrone speaks during a news conference, Monday, May 20, 2024, in Philadelphia.   (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The family of the youngest person ever executed in the state of Pennsylvania—a Black 16-year-old sent to the electric chair in 1931 and exonerated by the governor in 2022—is suing the county that prosecuted him. Alexander McClay Williams was convicted of murder in the October 1930 icepick stabbing of a white woman in her cottage on the grounds of his reform school, per the AP. Vida Robare, 34, had been stabbed 47 times. Her ex-husband, who also worked at the school, reported finding the body, and a photograph of an adult's bloody handprint, taken at the scene, was examined by two fingerprint experts. But that wasn't mentioned at the trial, nor was the fact that she had been granted a divorce on the grounds of "extreme cruelty."

The 5-foot-5, 125-pound Williams instead quickly became a suspect, even though his hands were smaller, there were no eyewitnesses, and no evidence linked him to the crime. He was held for days of interrogation without his parents or a lawyer on hand, and ultimately signed three confessions. He was convicted by an all-white jury on January 7, 1931, and executed five months later. "They murdered him," Susie Williams Carter, 94, of Chester, the last surviving sibling in the family of 13 children, said at a press conference Monday. "They need to pay for killing my brother." "This was kind of a legal lynching," said author and educator Samuel Lemon, whose great-grandfather William H. Ridley defended Williams at trial.

Philadelphia lawyer Joseph Marrone, who filed the federal lawsuit against Delaware County and the estates of two detectives and a prosecutor who had pursued the case, said the family has the same right to pursue damages as more recent exonerees, nine of whom, all Black men, joined the family at the podium Monday. "There was nothing to connect him to the murder," Marrone said of Williams. "He was a convenient Black boy at the hands of these detectives and this prosecutor." (More wrongful conviction stories.)

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