Officials of the Charleston School of Law Friday announced students will assist in researching the possibilities of filing a civil rights case to redress wrongs committed against George Stinney Jr. in his 1944 murder conviction. Stinney is believed the youngest person executed in the U.S. by a state in the 20th century. The black teenager was convicted of killing two young white girls in rural Clarendon County after a two-hour trial and 10-minute jury deliberation.
Stinney was one of the last people to see 11-year-old Betty Binnicker and eight-year-old Mary Thames alive. And though there were other suspects, the slightly built Stinney was accused of their brutal murder, dragging and then leaving their bodies in a pool of water.
In rural majority white 1944 Alcolu, Stinney was arrested March 23, tried a month later and executed less than three months after that on June 16. He never saw his family after his arrest, was questioned and tried by all white police and court officials in an atmosphere shrouded by the brutal murders of the two girls. He was said to have confessed though there were no written records other than notes taken by a deputy and no transcript of the trial.
Stinney was denied an appeal and was executed by electric chair. Books, possibly including his Bible, were used to raise his seat so his head could be placed in the metal skull cap conducing the electricity. He was buried in an unmarked grave to prevent desecration.
Charleston School of Law Professor Miller Shealy was on the team of attorneys who successfully got Stinney’s conviction vacated in 2014, 70 years after his execution. He noted that the judge who vacated the conviction was female and the solicitor arguing for the state was a black male. The courtroom in 2014 was vastly different from the one in 1944, he said.
More than 70 years after Stinney’s execution, so many legal questions are pending Shealy said he’s unsure what the law school’s research will reveal or the impact of its outcome. But it’s never too late to right a wrong, he said.
“What’s important is Stinney’s conviction was wrong and even old wrongs can be righted.
We shouldn’t just say ‘suck it up and move on’ because people in the present still are affected by that past. Just because we can’t fix it all, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something. Getting the conviction vacated was the first step. How we as a society can offer something to address this is the question we’re asking in this second step,” Shealy said.