16-year-old Alexander McClay Williams was executed in 1931 for allegedly killing a white woman and on Monday (June 13) was exonerated of the charges that exemplified "racial profiling at its worst."
In 1930, Vida Roberts was found dead surrounded by a pool of blood at Pennsylvania's Glen Mill School. Williams, a student at the time, confessed to the murder after facing hours of flogging and lashings from interrogators.
Despite the lack of evidence that connected Williams to the crime, the Black teenager was convicted and sentenced to execution by electric chair.
Now, 91 years after Williams was executed, a judge overturned his conviction in the same courtroom. District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said he dropped the charges because of the “numerous fundamental due process violations” that occurred during the original investigation.
“All the hallmarks of the American justice system were disregarded in this matter,” Stollsteimer said in a statement. “Due process was violated, and this young man may have been an innocent party who was executed. We’ll never know the absolute truth, but what I can tell you from my reading of this record is this shouldn’t have happened.”
During Williams' five interrogations, the 16-year-old was flogged and received 40 lashes from officers, according to reports. Cops also interviewed Williams without a parent or attorney present — it took 17 days from the initial charges for Williams to be assigned a lawyer.
Reports say detectives failed to investigate any other suspects and hid evidence including a bloody handprint examined by forensic experts that didn't match Williams.
On June 8, 1931, the 16-year-old boy became the youngest person put to death in Pennsylvania.
Neumann University professor Samuel Lemon said he researched Williams' case for 30 years and advocated for it to be reopened when he found the hidden evidence.
“It deeply troubled me many times thinking about this poor frightened boy sitting in an electric chair, not understanding why,” Lemon said in a statement. “That was an image I could not get out of my head, and it caused me great emotional distress at times.”
An attorney described the case as “racial profiling at its worst.”