“Nothing can bring back George Stinney Jr., but we can use the civil court process to try to get justice for his family,” said Charleston School of Law President Ed Bell, who added his firm would file the case with the help of the students. “A big lesson we try to provide students at the law school is that they need to give back to the community — and righting this wrong through the legal process will be a great learning experience as well as being the right thing to do.”
This month, the school started a clinical externship program to allow students to practice law under the tutelage of a professor and licensed, practicing attorneys. Seventeen students are enrolled in the course, which will provide a real-world involvement in the practice of law in an array of cases, including medical malpractice, automobile accidents and cases of post-conviction relief and civil rights.
“Our students will work with Bell Legal Group to develop the causes of civil actions in filing a civil rights case on behalf of George Stinney Jr. and his family,” said Charleston School of Law Professor Miller Shealy, who is leading the new program. “This will be an action arising out of the wrongful treatment, conviction and execution of a 14-year-old boy in 1944 — a conviction vacated by a state circuit court judge in 2014 who found there were constitutional violations during the murder trial.
“The clinical externship program will allow students to be able to go to real courts and question real witnesses,” Shealy said. “Under the direct supervision of a licensed practicing attorney, they will also be able to make arguments in court, conduct depositions, meet with clients, draft legal memoranda and draft orders.”
Bell said clinical experience would give students a leg up after they graduated.
“Unlike law students who graduated in my day and had to learn how to try cases after receiving a law license, this practical course will help our students understand how to work in the system and, we hope, be ready to practice law on the day they get their law license.”
On March 23, 1944, two white girls, ages 7 and 11, were killed in the small Clarendon County town of Alcolu. Stinney was convicted April 24 after a jury deliberated 10 minutes. Despite pleas from citizens for a pardon for Stinney, he was executed on June 16, 1944, which Shealy said made him the youngest person in the 20th century to be convicted and sentenced to death in the United States. Seventy years later, S.C. Circuit Judge Carmen T. Mullen vacated the conviction after ruling there were constitutional violations during the original trial.