New trial sought for SC boy, 14, executed in 1944

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An undated photo provided by the South Carolina Department of Archives and History shows 14-year-old George Stinney Jr., the youngest person ever executed in South Carolina. (AP Photo/South Carolina Department of Archives and History)
 
by Jeffrey Collins
Associated Press Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Supporters of a 14-year-old Black boy executed in 1944 for killing two White girls are asking a South Carolina judge to take the unheard-of move of granting him a new trial in hopes he will be cleared of the charges.

George Stinney was convicted on a shaky confession in a segregated society that wanted revenge for the beating deaths of two girls, ages 11 and 7, according to the lawsuit filed last month on Stinney’s behalf in Clarendon County.

 

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In this June 8, 1944 copy of a photo from The Columbia Record, George Stinney, Jr., 14, center right, and Bruce Hamilton, 21, center left, both of Chicora, Ga. enter the death house in the state prison in Columbia, S.C. Both were executed in the state’s electric chair on June 16, 1944. (AP Photo/The Columbia Record, Jimmy Price, File)

The request for a new trial has an uphill climb. The judge may refuse to hear it at all, since the punishment was already carried out. Also, South Carolina has strict rules for introducing new evidence after a trial is complete, requiring the information to have been impossible to discover before the trial and likely to change the results, said Kenneth Gaines, a professor at the University of South Carolina’s law school.

“I think it’s a longshot, but I admire the lawyer for trying it,” Gaines said, adding that he’s not aware of any other executed inmates in the state being granted a new trial posthumously.

The request for a new trial is largely symbolic, but Stinney’s supporters say they would prefer exoneration to a pardon.

Stinney’s case intersects some long-running disputes in the American legal system — the death penalty and race. At 14, he’s the youngest person executed in the United States in past 100 years. He was electrocuted just 84 days after the girls were killed in March 1944.

The request for a new trial includes sworn statements from two of Stinney’s siblings who say he was with them the entire day the girls were killed. Notes from Stinney’s confession and most other information deputies and prosecutors used to convict Stinney in a one-day trial have disappeared along with any transcript of the proceedings. Only a few pages of cryptic, hand-written notes remain, according to the motion.

“Why was George Stinney electrocuted? The state can’t produce any paperwork to justify why he was,” said George Frierson, a local school board member who grew up in Stinney’s hometown hearing stories about the case and decided six years ago to start studying it and pushing for exoneration.

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