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Pennsylvania Mayor Surrenders for 1969 Killings

Declaring that "a lot of prayers are with me," Mayor Charles Robertson of York, Pa., surrendered today on homicide charges dating to 1969 racial riots when he was a young white police officer who shouted "White power!" at a rally of angry whites.

While previously admitting racism, Mayor Robertson has steadfastly denied being the unidentified officer who, according to a grand jury affidavit, urged "commando raids" in black neighborhoods and supplied ammunition to members of a white street gang accused last month in the fatal shooting of a black woman.

The prosecutor, Tom Kelley, declined to comment today, citing a gag order. The mayor's attorney has said Mr. Roebertson is being politically targeted.

At a news conference in York on Wednesday, the mayor angrily announced: "Murder is the charge. Murder is the charge."

Mr. Robertson faces charges in the death of the black woman, Lillie Belle Allen, who was shot at the height of a week of racial unrest 32 years ago.

Mr. Robertson, who was one of the first police officers on the scene of the shooting on July 21, 1969, has maintained his innocence. He admitted to constituents the "White Power!" cry after a special grand jury investigation began last year. But he insisted it was a youthful incident of ingrained police racism that had since been expunged by sensitivity sessions.

"I stand here in disbelief to this charge, which they must prove," Mr. Robertson, 67, declared Wednesday, The York Daily Record reported on its Web site. "And to this I maintain my innocence," he said of the grand jury inquiry that has handed up 11 indictments, several of them sealed.

The bitter frustration of the mayor, long a civic leader on the ball fields and the school board of York, contrasted with his ebullient post-primary celebration on Tuesday night with supporters at the White Rose Bar and Grill. He vowed to prevail in November, despite his involvement as the investigation proceeds.

The 1969 shooting had gone largely uninvestigated until the 30th anniversary of the rioting drew renewed attention by the local news media and prosecutors.

A federal lawsuit by black residents, who complained that their rights were violated when police swept into their homes during the rioting, was dismissed in 1970. But the judge criticized Officer Robertson's behavior as "outrageous and reprehensible" in a footnote that the current grand jury investigation has delved into.

"I'm being advised by the district attorney's office that, as your mayor, it's necessary to be handcuffed," said Mr. Robertson, who successfully faced primary voters while pleading his innocence but conceding he was likely to be indicted.

In previously admitting to racism as a police officer, the mayor said that much of the force was racist in 1969. "It was 'black power,' 'white power,' " he said. "It was going through very disturbing times."

Pleading his case to voters, the mayor admitted that he had cited his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in response to most questions before the grand jury. He contended that his early racism in his 28-year police career was rooted in his father's having been mugged by three black men for $18.

Mr. Robertson won the Democratic nomination by 48 votes, out of 2,843 cast, defeating Councilman Ray Crenshaw.

Mr. Crenshaw was the first black politician to run for mayor in the history of the city of 41,000, which is 40 percent minority, mostly black. Only 6 percent of Robertson voters were black, while 33 percent of Mr. Crenshaw's votes came from white residents, according to a poll of voters sponsored by The York Daily Record and WGAL-TV.

The Democratic nomination is usually tantamount to election in York, a working-class city 80 miles west of Philadelphia. But Mayor Robertson's fate before the court could prove to be the decisive factor. The Republican candidate is Betty Schonauer, a former member of the school board.

Mayor Robertson disowned all thoughts of stepping down from office.

"Absolutely," he said at Wednesday's news conference, "I will be the mayor until the day I leave office. I will not relinquish the mayor's office at all."

The grand jury is also investigating the slaying of a York police officer, Henry C. Schaad, who was shot three days before the death of Ms. Allen, a 27-year-old mother of two who was visiting from South Carolina.

Two brothers, Arthur and Robert Messersmith, who are said to have belonged to a white street gang, were charged in the woman's homicide. The indictment called them members of the Newberry Street Boys, named after the street where Ms. Allen was killed. According to recent news accounts, Ms. Allen had emerged from her family car, waving her arms and shouting "don't shoot" when gunfire erupted.

Rick Lynn Knouse and Gregory Harry Neff, identified as members of a white street gang called the Girarders, and William C. Ritter have also been charged.

"It's politics," the mayor said in a recent interview. "A few people are trying to destroy my administration." He was not more specific.

The investigation is being led by District Attorney Stan Rebert, a Republican, who has not commented under a court order prohibiting lawyers from discussing the case.

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