FROM THE ARCHIVES: Schaad family prepares for 2nd riot case
Editor's note: This article originally was published Oct. 27, 2002.
For the family of Lillie Belle Allen, killed by a mob of white youths, a 33-year quest for justice is winding down. Now, the family of slain York City Police Officer Henry Schaad is readying itself for York’s second 1969 riot-related murder trial.
Schaad family members attended much of the Allen trial, and Barry Schaad — brother of the rookie officer mortally wounded as he rode in an armored vehicle over the College Avenue bridge July 18, 1969 — said he found the verdicts reassuring.
“I feel positive now that the 33-year delay issue is not an issue,” he said. “It just reinforces our hopes and our thoughts that we’re going to have a successful trial.”
Schaad was sitting in court when the verdict was read. His wife, Carolyn, sat through most of the trial in a seat directly behind the Allen family. Henry’s daughter, Sharon Schaad Howe, also attended.
Barry Schaad said the verdict reading was a “highly emotional time for (family members on) both sides of the case.”
“The Allen’s are feeling relief and closure and the defendants’ families are losing or separating from a loved one,” he said, adding that the Allens “have lived with the separation of a loved one for 33 years.”
Schaad said he didn’t want to take anything away from the Allen family’s moment, so he wouldn’t discuss his opinions on this trial’s outcome.
Still, he said he recognized the decision of the jury could not have been easy.
“I respect them for their time, their effort, their commitment,” he said. “And I’m willing to accept their decision, and now we’re just waiting for our trial.”
What’s next: The Schaad family’s turn will come later when the trial begins for the two men — Stephen D. Freeland and Leon “Smickle” Wright — charged in his brother’s killing, he said.
But even as the Schaad family readies itself for a long-delayed murder trial — expected to begin early next year — pending motions in the case against Freeland, 50, and Wright, 54, remain unresolved. Both are accused of firing at the armored car Schaad was riding in three days before Allen was killed.
Next on the court calendar for the Schaad defendants is a prejudicial-delay hearing, set for 9:30 a.m. Nov. 19. The hearing is meant to determine whether too much time has passed for the men to get a fair trial. Presiding will be visiting Bucks County Senior Common Pleas Judge Edward G. Biester Sr., who found in favor of prosecutors at a similar hearing for the Allen defendants.
Another hearing — this one to resolve pending pretrial motions in the Schaad case — is scheduled for 9 a.m. Dec. 11.
Terrence McGowan, Freeland’s attorney, has filed motions asking that:
- Freeland be tried separately from Wright.
- Judge John C. Uhler unseal the presentment from the grand jury convened to investigate the Schaad slaying.
- The entire York County bench recuse itself and an out-of-county judge be assigned.
- Prosecutors turn over discovery evidence to the defense.
Differing strategies: In contrast, Wright attorney William J. Fulton has not asked that his client’s case be severed from Freeland’s.
And unlike McGowan, he is asking for either a change of venue or venire, meaning he wants Wright’s case either tried out of county or, if tried here, heard by an out-of-county jury.
Although Fulton has submitted a request to automatically join in on some of McGowan’s pretrial motions, including asking prosecutors to turn over discovery, it’s clear the two attorneys aren’t preparing the same defense for their clients.
But Fulton said that doesn’t mean they can’t be tried jointly.
“I’m not convinced the defenses to be presented are necessarily hostile to each other,” he said. “If I heard Freeland was going to testify and blame it on Mr. Wright, then I might think about (separate trials).”
And Fulton said he doesn’t believe the “traditional grounds” for separate trials exist. For example, one standard reason to sever cases is if one defendant’s case could be prejudiced by trying it jointly with a codefendant’s case.
“That’s not going on in this case,” he said. “Neither of these guys confessed, and neither implicated the other.”
‘One trial’: Fulton said the more interesting question is what to do with two co-defendants when one wants the local judge to preside and the other wants that judge disqualified — and when one defendant wants to be tried by a York County jury, while the other wants an out-of-county panel.
“The resolution of those issues gets pretty interesting,” he said. “My guess is, although I can’t predict the future, it’s going to be one ... trial.”
Fulton said he’s waiting to hear prosecutors’ theory of why Wright is responsible for Schaad’s death.
“Leon Wright didn’t do it — he didn’t shoot at the armored car,” he said. “(Prosecutors) have a witness who said she saw him shooting at the armored car ... but it was pretty clear from her preliminary hearing testimony that she was not on the street at 9:20 (p.m.), when the shooting occurred.”
The attorney said he has spoken to a man who contradicts the prosecution witness’s allegation. That man claims he was standing at the exact location Wright was alleged to be when the shooting occurred, yet this man said Wright was not there,” Fulton said.
‘You’ve got all these witnesses who identify Steve Freeland as having been present and a shooter,” he said. “None of those witnesses — none — identified Leon Wright as having been present or having a weapon and shooting at the car,” he said.
McGowan did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Police actions: Police conduct could be an issue, just as it was in the Allen trial, but it seems unlikely Schaad defense attorneys will argue self defense as did lawyers for Allen murderers Robert N. Messersmith and Gregory H. Neff.
At the Allen murder trial, defense attorneys argued that Messersmith and Neff took arms to defend their families and neighborhoods against rioting black residents. Some have said police also fired indiscriminately into black neighborhoods and were perceived as an enemy during the riots.
But that doesn’t give the defendants a claim of self-defense, local lawyers say.
Fulton said he was dubious about the idea working for Wright.
“Did it work in the (Allen) case? I don’t think so. There’s no ‘civil war theory’ of self-defense,” he said. “And that’s really what you would be arguing.”
Fulton said since he’s arguing his client did not commit the slaying, arguing a self-defense theory could be counterproductive.
“You can present inconsistent defenses, but they’ve got to pass what (Freeland’s attorney) McGowan calls the ‘giggle test,’” Fulton said.
Longtime York attorney Harold Fitzkee, a former district attorney, said that although he believes there were incidents prior to the riots where K-9 dogs were “unnecessarily” sicced on blacks, he does not believe black city residents were “brutalized” at the hands of police.
“I think they were mistreated in the sense they were not treated equally ... not treated fairly,” he said.
Fitzkee said he believes a self-defense claim at the Schaad trial would have “zero” chance of succeeding, “because Freeland is accused of being a sniper.”
York lawyer Thomas Kearney III also heard of clashes between police and residents during the race riots.
“I have heard rumors that police were taking pot-shots at people of color during their rides through the neighborhoods during the riots,” he said. “Whether that’s established at trial or not, who knows.”
But Kearney stressed that self-defense restrictions in the law are very clear.
“In order to establish a self-defense claim, you need to show the use of deadly force was immediately necessary to protect yourself and others against death or seriously bodily injury,” he said. “If I can retreat with safety, I have an obligation to do that.”
Duty to retreat: York attorney Frank Arcuri said the legal duty to retreat would be an obstacle to a self-defense claim at the Schaad murder trial.
“If you’ve got a vehicle moving away from you ... my feeling is that self-defense may be a little more of a problem for these guys” than for the Allen defendants, he said.
Arcuri said a defense attorney can choose to subtly “weave in” elements of a self-defense claim while presenting a different defense — for example what lawyers call the “SODDI” (Some Other Dude Did It) defense.
“But a lawyer is going to have to be pretty skillful to weave in two different defenses,” he said. “The jury is not going to be that stupid.”