Judge John C. Uhler took a break from jury selection yesterday to address a petition that has been circulated demanding he recuse himself from the Lillie Belle Allen murder trial.
In a decision he announced from the bench, Uhler said he would not be stepping down.
He said he had reviewed the matter with the Pennsylvania Conference of Trial Judges, which endorsed his decision to preside over the case.
In addition, he said, those circulating the petition are not parties to the case and have no standing with the court.
The petition, initiated by local author William Keisling and several York City officials, states Uhler should step down from the trial because he was York County's district attorney from 1978 to 1981, when key evidence in the Allen investigation was lost.
Sometime during 1981, the shotgun slug that killed Allen was lost in transport between a Harrisburg forensics laboratory and the state police barracks in Loganville.
Yesterday, Uhler said as district attorney, he had no supervisory custody over state police, nor did he play any role in the transportation of the evidence.
After hearing Uhler's decision, Keisling, who recently wrote a book on Allen case called "The Wrong Car," said the judge has created a risk that any convictions in the case could end up being thrown out.
Keisling said he intends to deliver the petition to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and file a complaint.
The petition calls for discipline, including possible impeachment, if Uhler doesn't step down.
Keisling also criticized the judge for presiding over both the Allen trial and the investigative grand jury that recommended indictments in the case.
"He is privy to materials that an impartial judge shouldn't be privy to," Keisling said.
He said even a perception of a conflict of interest is too much.
York City Councilwoman Toni Smith is one of the people circulating the petition, but she said she doesn't think it will change anything in the Allen case. A longtime supporter of former Mayor Charles Robertson, who is one of the three defendants, Smith said the trial is too far along for Uhler to step down.
"It's too late for Charlie," she said.
Rather, she said she hopes Uhler will now recuse himself from the upcoming trial in the murder of the 1969 riot's second victim, rookie police officer Henry Schaad.
Last week, an attorney for Stephen Freeland, one of the two men charged with Schaad's killing, filed a motion requesting Uhler recuse himself because Uhler oversaw the grand jury proceedings that ultimately recommended Freeland be charged with murder.
Defense attorneys in the Allen case initially filed similar motions requesting Uhler step down, but yesterday, they said they supported the judge.
"Judge Uhler up until this point in the proceedings has made every effort to call things right down the middle," said William Costopoulos, Robertson's attorney.
"These high-profile cases bring out a lot of whackos," Costopoulos said.