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Seventy years after he was killed at age 14, making him the youngest person in the U.S. in the last century to be executed, a South Carolina judge tossed out the 1944 murder conviction of George J. Stinney Jr.

It took less than a day to convict Stinney of the murder of two white girls in 1944. He was executed via the electric chair after his white lawyer called no witnesses and performed no cross-examinations.

Judge Carmen T. Mullen of Circuit Court called the verdict a “great and fundamental injustice,” finding that the prosecution had failed in numerous ways to safeguard Stinney’s constitutional rights. She did not, however, rule that the conviction of Stinney for the murder of the girls was wrong on the merits, according to the New York Times.

The all-white jury could not be considered a jury of the teenager’s peers, Judge Mullen ruled, and his court-appointed attorney did “little to nothing” to defend him. His confession was most likely coerced and unreliable, she added, “due to the power differential between his position as a 14-year-old black male apprehended and questioned by white, uniformed law enforcement in a small, segregated mill town in South Carolina.”


At the hearing, in Sumter, Mr. Stinney’s two sisters testified, and a videotaped deposition from his brother was played. They spoke of the morning in March 1944 when the two girls, Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, 7, were seen riding bicycles by the pastures in rural Alcolu. The girls’ bodies were found the next morning in a ditch, their skulls crushed. Mr. Stinney was taken into custody within hours, and confessed to the murders that day.

Two white men who had helped search for the girls also testified, and a cellmate of Mr. Stinney’s recounted conversations in which Mr. Stinney said he was innocent and had been made to confess. Less than three months passed between the murder and the execution; the trial and sentencing took less than a day.

In a 2009 affidavit, Stinney’s sister said she had been with her brother on the day of the murders and he could not have committed them. At the time of his arrest and execution, the 14-year-old only weighed 95 pounds. It took 10 minutes for a jury of 12 white men to convict him.

SOURCE: NYT | PHOTO CREDIT: South Carolina Department of Archives and History

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