FROM THE ARCHIVES: 10th defendant faces nine years
Editor's note: This article originally was published April 3, 2003.
The 10th and final defendant charged in the 1969 murder of Lillie Belle Allen pleaded no contest to conspiracy and attempted murder yesterday, an anticlimactic conclusion to four controversial years of investigation and prosecution in the racially charged case.
Afterward, Ezra T. “Skip” Slick, 53, was returned to York County Prison, where he has been jailed since his arrest last July, to await sentencing May 28. The maximum possible prison term he faces is 4½ to 9 years.
By entering a no-contest plea, Slick admitted complicity in the death of Allen, a 27-year-old black woman shot and killed during the 1969 race riots by a gang of white youths.
Slick’s defense attorney, Rick Robinson, told Common Pleas Judge John C. Uhler the no-contest plea was appropriate because Slick was drinking the night of the murder and has no clear recollection of “what he may have done, what conduct he engaged in.”
Slick, who has difficulty speaking due to lung and throat cancer, said little during the one-hour proceeding.
Prosecutor Tom Kelley told Uhler witnesses remember seeing Slick on West Gay Avenue, less than a block from where Allen and her family had stopped their Cadillac, “discharging his weapon into the vehicle.”
Unlike prior Allen-case proceedings that received coverage from the national and foreign press, Slick’s plea took place in a nearly empty courtroom. The only relative of the victim to attend was Allen’s sister, Hattie Dickson, who witnessed the killing.
Dickson left the courtroom without comment.
Afterward, Kelley said the prosecution had been “a long road” and expressed hope Allen’s family can “put this chapter of their lives behind them.”
“The prime culprits in this have been brought to justice and there is an appreciation on our part that the community needs to move on from this at this point,” he said.
Longer sentence: Some of the six men who struck plea bargains last fall served only a few months in jail and have already been released.
But Kelley said Slick’s case calls for a longer sentence because he would not testify when three defendants went to trial in September and denied the validity of earlier statements to police.
“We have always taken a hard line on those who chose not to cooperate with us,” Kelley said.
In prior accounts of the murder, Slick seemed to contradict himself.
- Last May, he told The York Dispatch/Sunday News he was standing outside his home a few doors west of the Newberry Street murder scene when shots rang out, causing him to duck behind a car. He didn’t know who actually killed Allen, he said then.
- In a July 2001 police interview, he said he was not armed, but witnessed others kill Allen, according to internal police records.
- A month later, after appearing before the investigative grand jury looking into the murder, Slick said: “I seen her shot, but I don’t know who did it.”
- And by February 2002, his story had changed completely. According to his arrest affidavit, he told detectives he “fired four shots down the tracks in the direction of the car.”
His own statements weren’t the only evidence against him. Witness Gary Richard King testified during a preliminary hearing for the other defendants that he saw Slick and his brother, John Jonas Slick, fire at Allen’s vehicle. Kelley told Uhler yesterday King’s recollection would form part of the case against Slick were he brought to trial.
Asked about John Slick’s involvement, Kelley declined comment except to say that he “is extremely ill at this point.”
The defendant: A twice divorced eighth-grade drop-out and York native, Skip Slick has worked as a laborer and construction worker. His criminal history includes convictions for theft by deception (1978), DUI (1993) and theft by deception and passing bad checks (2000).
On probation for the 2000 case at the time of his arrest in the Allen case, Slick’s probation was subsequently revoked, and he finished serving that sentence Oct. 29. Since then he has remained in jail without bail.
His younger sister, Arlene Slick, with whom he had lived on West King Street in the past, said she does not believe he had anything to do with Allen’s death.
“If he admitted to it in court, he was pretty stupid,” she said. “I don’t know what his problem is. Maybe he figures if he spends enough time in jail, he’ll get the medical care he needs. I don’t know.”
After a three-week trial in October, defendants Gregory H. Neff and Robert N. Messersmith were found guilty of second-degree murder and are serving state prison sentences. Former York City Mayor Charles Robertson, a police officer at the time Allen was killed, was acquitted.
Deputy prosecutor Tim Barker, in court with Kelley yesterday, said he would not engage in “speculation” about whether some who fired at Allen’s vehicle have escaped prosecution.
“We were given a body of information and were able to gather a body of evidence,” Barker said. But as of now, he said, “those leads are dry. We have exhausted all we have. If we get evidence and information that is credible … of course we’re going to look at it seriously.”
Allen’s family has filed a federal civil-rights suit against York City, Robertson and four former city police officers. That case if pending in Harrisburg, but federal Judge Yvette Kane recently put the lawsuit on hold while city officials determine whether the city’s insurance carrier will cover the claim.