SUMTER, S.C., Jan. 21 (UPI) -- The judge deciding whether a 14-year-old boy executed in South Carolina almost 70 years ago deserves a new trial said Tuesday the case was "tragic."
Judge Carmen Mullen told the spectators packing a courtroom in Sumter she will not decide whether George Junius Stinney, who was black, was innocent or guilty of the murder of two white girls, the (Charleston) Post and Courier reported. She said the question before her is whether he received a fair trial.
"Let me begin by saying this is a tragic situation," Mullen said. "No one here can justify a 14-year-old child being charged, tried and executed in 83 days. ... In essence, not much was done for this child when his life lay in the balance."
Stinney was the youngest person ever put to death in South Carolina and the youngest in the United States in a century. He was so short he had to sit on the Bible he brought into the death chamber so he could be strapped into the electric chair.
Stinney was arrested soon after the bodies of Mary Emma Thames, 7, and Betty June Binnicker, 11, were found in a water-filled ditch in Alcolu March 23, 1944. He was executed at the state prison in Columbia the following June 16.
Amie Ruffner, 77, Stinney's sister, told WLTX-TV, Columbia, her brother was with her during the time he was supposed to have been killing the girls. She said the girls, looking for flowers to pick, passed by while she and George took care of the family cow.
"They said, 'Could you tell us where we could find some may pops?'" Ruffner recalled. "We said 'no,' and they went on about their business."
Ruffner was not around to give evidence during her brother's trial, which lasted only a day, including jury selection and the 10 minutes of deliberations. The family had been told they had a choice between getting out of town or being lynched.
Mullen has not said when she will rule. Legal experts say it will be difficult for the lawyers pushing for a new trial to get one, given that Stinney is long dead, the evidence and trial transcripts have disappeared and South Carolina law makes winning this kind of appeal difficult in the best of circumstances.