Ex-officer testifies in Pa. murder trial

Calls removal of barricade his `most wrong decision'

October 08, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

YORK, Pa. - It was "the most wrong decision I've ever made in my life," said Ronald E. Zeager.

While on police duty, he said, he moved the barricade that blocked the way onto North Newberry Street, allowing Lillie Belle Allen and her family to drive into the hostile white neighborhood where Allen was killed on a July evening in 1969 as young white gang members opened fire.

"This was a mistake at the barricades, not murder," William C. Costopoulos, the defense lawyer for former Mayor Charlie Robertson, said in an interview yesterday - the fifth day of testimony in the murder trial of Robertson and two other white men charged in Allen's death.

Robertson, also a police officer in 1969, is accused of offering bullets and encouragement to the young white gang members who allegedly shot Allen, the 27-year-old daughter of a Baptist minister from Aiken, S.C.

The testimony of Zeager, a 27-year veteran of the York force who retired in 1988, contradicted the recollections of Hattie Mosley Dickson, Allen's younger sister who was behind the wheel when she and her family drove a white Cadillac into the neighborhood at the height of 11 days of riots.

Dickson, the only living occupant of the car, testified last week that the yellow sawhorse barricades were on the sidewalk when she turned onto North Newberry Street and that neither of the two policemen on the corner stopped her. That was consistent with the story Zeager told to the grand jury investigating the case, but he changed his story yesterday.

He said that Allen's relatives told him at the barricades that they were on the way to visit someone in the housing projects.

"I said they better go around because we were having some problems in this area," Zeager said, suggesting a route that would have taken the family five minutes out of its way. When one of the passengers indicated "they wanted to go this way," Zeager moved the sawhorse.

Zeager testified that he recalls one black man and two black women in the car. Dickson and others testified Dickson was driving her mother, sister, father and husband, putting two men and three women in the Cadillac. Zeager described the women's ages as "middle 30s and up" - Allen was 27, Dickson was 23.

He also said he did not recall Dickson driving the Cadillac back down North Newberry Street after the shooting. Former gang members, neighborhood residents and police all described in detail the sight of Dickson driving the shot-up Cadillac out of the neighborhood on its rims.

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