HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- The town of York, still trying to heal from deadly race riots 32 years ago, faces the potential of even more division as defense attorneys seek answers for the question: Why did it take so long to bring charges?
Starting Monday, a three-day hearing in York County Common Pleas Court was expected to examine the delay. The defense is seeking to get charges dismissed against nine white men accused of the murder of a black woman in 1969.
The nine defendants -- including Mayor Charlie Robertson, who was a police officer at the time -- have pleaded innocent to the charges, which were filed this spring.
Defense attorneys plan to argue that too much time has lapsed since the killing of Lillie Belle Allen, a 27-year-old preacher's daughter from South Carolina, making it impossible for their clients to receive a fair trial.
Attorneys for the defendants will seek to remind the judge that crucial evidence is now missing, including the bullet fragment that killed Allen.
They will note that witnesses that could have offered testimony exonerating their clients are now dead and that memories of still-living witnesses are too shaky to stand in court.
The 10 days of rioting in July 1969 were sparked in part by the shooting of a young black man by a white gang member. The next day, a white police officer, Henry Schaad, was shot and killed. On July 21, Allen was gunned down by a white mob.
The two murder cases went cold until a few years ago, after both of the city's daily newspapers provided extensive coverage of the 30th anniversary of the murders in this city of 41,000 people, about 40 percent of them minorities.
In a twist, defense attorneys this week planned to call as a witness Judge John C. Uhler, a former York district attorney who has presided over the reopened case.
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