FROM THE ARCHIVES: Killers can't rest: Justice is still possible, prosecutor says
Editor's note: This article originally was published July 25, 1999.
A York County deputy district attorney says prosecuting the gunmen who killed two people during the 1969 riots in York City could be difficult, but given the right break in the cases, it’s not necessarily impossible.
Under state law that dates back before the York riots, if multiple shooters act as accomplices, they can be charged with murder, even if they didn’t fire the fatal shots. Investigators say having multiple shooters in the killings of York City Police Officer Henry C. Schaad on July 18, 1969, and Lillie Belle Allen two days later has hampered efforts to gather enough evidence to file charges.
First Assistant Prosecutor Tom Kelley said he is not familiar with the investigations of the 1969 shootings, but he ran into similar obstacles in successfully prosecuting a case where only three of seven gunmen believed to be involved were arrested for shooting 19-year-old Raymond Anthony “Skip” Clarke on Oct. 5, 1998.
After two hours of deliberations in January, a jury convicted Tysheem “Ty Boogie” Crocker and Melvin Shakeen “Fatback” Bethune of first-degree murder. They are serving life sentences. A third shooter, Daniel “Gamble” Steele, cooperated with prosecutors in exchange for a 2 ½ to 5-year prison sentence.
Kelley told the jury that Bethune and Crocker didn’t shoot Clarke, but under the law, if they were accomplices, they were equally guilty.
“Who fired the shot is immaterial,” he said.
Thomas V. Chatman Jr., a former police chief who was lead detective on the 1969 murder investigations, and William Hose, a patrolman who worked the riots, later became chief, and is now county sheriff, said they have viable suspects in both shootings, but never managed to get enough evidence to file charges.
Hose said police believe there were four shooters in Schaad’s death and up to 20 shooters in Allen’s death.
“We know the names of some, not all. And they know we know,” Hose said.
Kelley said he is reluctant to make comparisons to his case because he has not reviewed the Schaad and Allen police investigations. But he is confident that with the right break, the cases could finally be prosecuted because there is no statute of limitations on homicide.
“There is that ray of hope. There is always hope out there,” Kelley said.
But Kelley said conspiracy murder cases are difficult to prove, as he learned in the Clarke case. Jurors tend to want a smoking gun and to know who fired the fatal bullet, though the law says all prosecutors have to prove is the shooters acted in concert with the intent to kill someone.
As in the 1969 shootings, the Clarke homicide involved multiple shooters at night, mass confusion, limited evidence and reluctant witnesses, leaving open the question of who fired the fatal shots. But finding more than 40 bullet casings fired by automatic weapons at close range supported the claim of deadly intent, Kelley said.
In the Schaad and Allen cases, multiple shooters took aim and fired, knowing the outcome could result in death, Hose said. He called the shooters “deliberate” and “mean spirited.”
Under the law, prosecutors don’t have to charge every shooter but only the ones they know, Kelley said. Four other shooters remain nameless and uncharged in the Clarke murder, including a suspect identified as “Corleone,” who police believe fired the fatal shots.
Helping with the Clarke case, however, was that Steele accepted a plea bargain in exchange for providing key evidence against the other shooters, Kelley said. Steele testified how the group discussed opening fire because of a neighborhood drug turf war, and led police to one of the guns.
Chatman and Hose said they believe that those involved in the 1969 cases may yet decide to come forward if a deal is offered. And they could agree to waiving the statute of limitations to allow themselves to be charged with a lesser crime, Kelley said.
But Kelley, who said he supports the judgment of investigators who have examined the case for three decades, cautioned against prosecuting a murder case with insufficient evidence.
“If you bring homicide charges and you don’t have enough evidence to prove it, you can’t try it again. It’s double jeopardy. You run that risk,” he said.