Originally created 11/20/02

Judge: arrests in killing during 1969 race riots not prejudicial

YORK, Pa. -- A 32-year delay in the arrests of two black men accused in the 1969 race-riot slaying of a white police officer was not unfair to the defendants, a judge ruled.

Senior Judge Edward Biester on Tuesday denied a defense motion to drop murder charges against Stephen Freeland, 50, and Leon "Smickle" Wright, 54, in the killing of Officer Henry Schaad.

The apparent inability of detectives and prosecutors to make a case for 32 years was not "reckless," as defense attorneys had argued, Biester said.

"That is not to say that some more aggressive investigation might not have produced an earlier result," the judge said.

Both men are accused of shooting at an armored van on July 18, 1969, during 10 days of riots in York that were touched off when a white man wounded a black teenager. Schaad and other officers were in the van on their way to investigate a report of a wounded motorcyclist, prosecutors said.

The bullet that hit Schaad damaged his lungs and spine and was found to have caused his death on Aug. 1, 1969.

Defense attorneys argued that there were dozens of people who could have helped their clients' defense, but who died in the past 33 years.

"This is not a case where they didn't have any evidence until 32 years later," Wright's attorney William Fulton said. "They had this evidence and it was recklessly disregarded."

York County prosecutor Timothy Barker said detectives and district attorneys delayed the case only until they found sufficient and solid evidence.

Another murder trial stemming from the riots wrapped up last month when a jury convicted two men of murder and acquitted former York Mayor Charlie Robertson in the death of black woman who was ambushed by a white gang three days after Schaad's shooting.

Prosecutors argued successfully in that case that the delay between the killing of 27-year-old Lillie Belle Allen and the arrests was not the result of negligence, nor was it a plot to gain an advantage at trial.

In all, 10 white men were charged over the past two years in Allen's slaying. Six pleaded guilty and were sentenced to up to three years in prison, and another has yet to go to trial.

No trial date has been set for Freeland and Wright.


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