Lawyers seek new trial for 14-year-old South Carolina boy executed in 1944

Richard Luscombe,

Supporters of a 14-year-old black boy put to death in 1944 for the murders of two young white girls have asked a judge in South Carolina to grant him a new trial.

An all-white jury took barely 10 minutes to convict George Stinney of bludgeoning the girls, aged 11 and seven, in the segregated town of Alcolu. He was electrocuted just 84 days after the crime as the youngest person to be executed in the US during the 20th Century, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre.

Steve McKenzie, the lawyer acting for Stinney's family, filed the trial request in Clarendon County, claiming that the teenager's conviction was based on a forced confession and a racially divided community's desire for revenge. Analysts say the motion is largely symbolic and faces little chance of success because of strict state rules that largely prohibit the introduction of new evidence after the conclusion of a trial.

But family members say that just getting the case back into a courtroom after seven decades will be a victory in itself.

"His family is still thriving, but his soul is not at rest," said Irene Hill, Stinney's second cousin. "It has been 69 years now, and there still is no justice. There has been no justice for George, nor for those two young girls, because we know that he is innocent."

The bodies of June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, seven, were found in a creek on 25 March 1944, after they were reported missing while picking wildflowers the day before. Both were stabbed to death with a railway spike.

A town resident said he saw Stinney, who was playing outside with his younger sister, talking to two young girls. He was arrested and put on trial one month after the girls disappeared, with the entire case lasting only two and a half hours and the teenager represented by a court-appointed lawyer who called no defence witnesses.

McKenzie's motion, which says Stinney weighed only 90lb and would have been physically unable to commit the crime, contains sworn statements from two of his siblings, who say he was with them throughout the day the victims went missing.

Charles Stinney, who was 12 at the time, explained in the new court filing why his family did not co-operate with investigators after the murders.

"George's conviction and execution was something my family believed could happen to any of us in the family. Therefore, we made a decision for the safety of the family to leave it be," he wrote.

Many of the notes and documents from the original trial, including Stinney's alleged confession and the transcript of the case, have been lost, the motion states, with the exception of a few pages of cryptic, hand-written notes.

While other executed inmates have been posthumously pardoned in the state, University of South Carolina law school professor Kenneth Gaines said he was unaware of any being granted a new trial.

"I think it's a long-shot, but I admire the lawyer for trying it," he said, adding that the judge could yet refuse to hear the motion.

No date has been set for a hearing. A spokesman for the South Carolina attorney general's office said its lawyers had not yet seen the paperwork and would not comment on a pending case.

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