Slain woman's son testifies as prosecutors wrap up case

York County judge denies motions to dismiss charges, acquit 3 men

October 11, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

YORK, Pa. - Michael Allen had asked his mother three times whether he could join her on a trip to the grocery store on July 21, 1969.

"Just wait here," Allen testified yesterday that his mother told him. "It won't take long. I'll be right back."

Standing on the porch of his aunt's house in this southern Pennsylvania factory town, he watched as his mother climbed into the backseat of a white Cadillac with her parents, younger sister and brother-in-law. It was the last time the 9-year-old saw Lillie Belle Allen alive.

Michael Allen, now 41 and living in North Augusta, S.C., was the last of 52 witnesses to testify for prosecutors in the murder trial of former Mayor Charlie Robertson, Robert N. Messersmith and Gregory H. Neff.

Prosecutors wrapped up their case yesterday afternoon - 33 years after Lillie Belle Allen was gunned down at a railroad crossing after her family strayed into a volatile white neighborhood during race riots and nearly three years after the long-dormant case was reopened.

York County Judge John C. Uhler denied defense attorneys' motions yesterday afternoon to dismiss murder charges and acquit the three white men.

Messersmith, 53, former leader of the Newberry Street Boys gang, is accused of firing the fatal shotgun slug. Robertson, 68, a police patrolman in 1969, is accused of supplying ammunition and encouragement to gang members.

Neff, 54, former leader of the rival Girarders gang, admitted to a grand jury in November 2000 that he fired three shots at Allen's car.

Most of yesterday's testimony came from Rodney V. George, a detective with the York County District Attorney's Office and the lead investigator on the Allen case.

Since he interviewed his first witness on March 3, 2000, George and his team interviewed more than 400 people - including every living York police officer who was on the job in July 1969 - traveling to more than a dozen states.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys grilled George on his investigation, from how he came to speak with certain witnesses to how many people police interviewed during a two- to three-month investigation in 1969. (They questioned 58.)

With a seemingly encyclopedic memory, George answered nearly every question without even a glance at his notes.

Asked by defense lawyer Thomas B. Sponaugle to confirm that a young white man from the Newberry Street neighborhood, Joe Diaczun, had been shot there during the riots, George corrected him.

"No, it was not Joe Diaczun," he testified. "It was John Diaczun. And he wasn't shot in that neighborhood. He was shot at Penn and King" streets.

Attorneys for Robertson began presenting their case late yesterday afternoon, calling to the witness stand the 87-year-old retired Pennsylvania State Police captain assigned to York during the riots and a former York patrolman who was in an armored police vehicle with Robertson the night Allen was killed.

Neither had heard of or seen Robertson distributing bullets to gang members.

The former mayor's lawyers are expected to continue with their case today and Tuesday, followed by attorneys for Messersmith and then Neff.

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