George Stinney, Black Teen Executed In 1944, May Get New Trial
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Retrial For Executed 14-Year-Old George Stinney Would Be Unprecedented In South Carolina
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Leaving a judge to decide whether to throw out the conviction of a 14-year-old boy executed in South Carolina in 1944 reminds supporters of George Stinney of how the teen’s fate was also in one man’s hands nearly 70 years ago.
Gov. Olin Johnston could have commuted Stinney’s death sentence to life in prison if he wanted. He had 54 days between the time the black teen was convicted of killing two white girls in the tiny mill town of Alcolu in Clarendon County and his march to the electric chair with a Bible in his arm.
But Johnston was running for U.S. Senate in 1944, facing a challenger who took a much harder line on segregation. He refused clemency for Stinney, saying he trusted the police, prosecutor and jury. At 14, Stinney was the youngest person executed in this country in the past 100 years, according to statistics gathered by the Death Penalty Information Center.
Stinney’s conviction is being challenged by a lawsuit filed by supporters asking for a new trial, a move unprecedented in South Carolina for someone already put to death. A hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 21.
Solicitor Ernest A. “Chip” Finney III made a surprise visit to a rally calling for justice for Stinney. He said he has no problem with a judge deciding on the lawsuit and will have little to argue against it because the transcript of the one-day trial and almost all of the evidence has disappeared. If the judge throws out Stinney’s conviction, Finney said he will try to recreate the 1944 investigation and then decide what to do with the case.
The judge for the hearing has not been picked. But George Frierson, a local school board member who grew up in Stinney’s hometown hearing stories about the case and has been pushing for the teen’s exoneration for nearly a decade, said he is leery to leave the decision in the hands of one person.
“Look at what happened with the governor after the boy was convicted. Political things can happen when one person is deciding things,” Frierson said.
Johnston received hundreds of telegrams and letters as Stinney waited on death row. Many of them asked him to have mercy on Stinney because he was so young. His age captivated writers, and Stinney’s story was in newspapers across the country before his death.
Others letters used crude language and suggested Stinney was part of a larger problem of lawless black men that preyed on white women.
Johnston sent the same note back, over and over again. It acknowledged Stinney’s age, but added that he brutally murdered the girls. Johnston’s note inaccurately said Stinney killed the younger girl to rape the older girl and violated the older girl after she was dead. Stinney was not tried for rape.
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Exonerated After Execution: Judge Tosses Teen’s Murder Conviction
BY LISA RIORDAN SEVILLE
Seventy years after South Carolina executed a 14-year-old boy so small he sat on a phone book in the electric chair, a circuit court judge threw out his murder conviction.
On Wednesday morning, Judge Carmen Mullins vacated the decision against George Stinney Jr., a black teen who was convicted of beating two young white girls to death in the small town of Alcolu in 1944.
Civil rights advocates have spent years trying to get the case reopened, arguing that Stinney’s confession was coerced. At the time of his arrest, Stinney weighed just 95 pounds. Officials said Stinney had admitted beating the girls, 11 and 8 years old, with a railroad spike.
In a 2009 affidavit, Stinney’s sister said she had been with him on the day of the murders and he could not have committed them.
Stinney was put on trial and then executed within three months of the killings. His trial lasted three hours, and a jury of 12 white men took 10 minutes to find him guilty.
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WARNING: The following movie clip depicts the execution of George Stinney