- (Photo: Reuters/South Carolina Department of Archives)
George Stinney Jr. was only 14 years old when he was convicted of the murders of two girls and put to death nearly 70 years ago in South Carolina. Now attorneys say there is new evidence that could clear his name, and they are pushing for a new trial to exonerate his conviction. The victims' families, however, are not in favor of a new trial and want the past left in the past.
"This is a horrific case," defense lawyer Steven McKenzie told Reuters. "Whether justice is 70 years old or one year old or one month old, we think justice needs to be done."
According to reports, Stinney and younger sister Amie were sitting on the railroad tracks when they were approached by Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Marry Emma Thames, 7. The girls asked Stinney where they could find a certain type of flower and then went about their way. Stinney and his sister returned home and thought nothing more of the interaction.
Unfortunately, Binnicker and Thames never returned home, and their bodies were found behind a church the next day. Their skulls had been crushed and their bicycles laid on top of them.
Sadie Duke and her friend Evelyn Roberson say that they remember being threatened by Stinney just one day before Binnicker and Thames allegedly encountered him.
"He said, 'If you don't get away from here and if you ever come back, I will kill you,'" Duke told The Post and Courier.
"They called the (Stinney) boy 'Bully' because he was so bad to everybody," added Roberson. "Everybody he met he wanted to fight."
Stinney told someone that he had seen the girls at the railroad tracks and was immediately taken into custody by police. Five days later he was formally arrested.
"Since he became identified as the person who had seen them last before they died, they decided to arrest him," Matthew Burgess, one of the attorneys pushing for a new trial said.
However, Roberson told The Post that Stinney "confessed to his grandmother, who called the authorities. I think he did it, and he should have gotten punished for it and he did."
Stinney's trial only took one day and was held just one month after the murders. An all-white jury took 10 minutes to find him guilty of the crimes, and the 14-year-old was sentenced to death. According to reports from the time, Stinney, who weighed only 95 pounds, was too small for the straps on the electric chair. Witnesses were able to see tears streaming from his eyes as he died.
Aime never testified at her brother's trial, fearing that it would make matters worse, but if a new trial is allowed, she will be one of the key witnesses. Other new evidence includes a letter from then-South Carolina Governor Olin Johnston's office saying that Stinney's confession included information that was not factual. A cellmate has also come forward to say that Stinney told him he was forced to confess.
A judge will decide on Tuesday whether the guilty verdict against Stinney will stand. If it is thrown out, a new trial will be granted and Stinney could be exonerated.
One of Betty June's relatives, Frankie Bailey Dyches, told The Post that her grandfather and uncle witnessed Stinney's execution in 1944.
"They thought he got exactly what he deserved," Dyches said. "They weren't proud of it, but they felt it needed to be done."
"Why was George Stinney electrocuted? The state can't produce any paperwork to justify why he was," George Frierson, one of the men pushing for exoneration told the Huffington Post in November. "The first step in a pardon is to admit you are wrong and ask for forgiveness. This boy did nothing wrong."