When George Stinney Jr. was executed for the killings of two white girls in 1944, he was so small that the straps of South Carolina’s electric chair didn’t fit him properly, and he had to sit on a book for his electrocution.
Stinney was just 14 years old at the time and became the youngest person put to death in the United States in the 20th century. But Wednesday, 70 years after the fact, Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen tossed out his conviction, which was reached after a trial that didn’t even last a full day and was never appealed. As the Associated Press noted, it took Mullen “nearly four times as long to issue her ruling as it took in 1944 to go from arrest to execution.”
“I can think of no greater injustice,” Mullen wrote in her 29-page order, the AP reported.Stinney, who was black, was arrested for the beating deaths of two young girls in the segregated town of Alcolu. There wasn’t any physical evidence linking him the crimes, and he wasn’t allowed to see his parents after he was apprehended.
“Given the particularized circumstances of Stinney’s case, I find by a preponderance of the evidence standard, that a violation of the Defendant’s procedural due process rights tainted his prosecution,” Mullen wrote in her decision, according to CNN.
From the AP:
Stinney’s case has long been whispered in civil rights circles in South Carolina as an example of how a black person could be railroaded by a justice system during the Jim Crow era where the investigators, prosecutors and juries were all white.
The case received renewed attention because of a crusade by textile inspector and school board member George Frierson. Armed with a binder full of newspaper articles and other evidence, he and a law firm believed the teen represented everything that was wrong with South Carolina during the era of segregation.
“It was obviously a long shot but one we thought was worth taking,” said attorney Matt Burgess, whose firm argued that Stinney should get a new trial.
Earlier this year, Stinney’s sister, Amie Ruffner told the Guardian: “I never went back [to Alcolu]. I curse that place. It was the destruction of my family and the killing of my brother