Judge to decide if 14-year-old executed in 1944 got fair trial

Jan. 23, 2014 at 1:20 AM
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SUMTER, S.C., Jan. 23 (UPI) -- A South Carolina judge must now decide whether there is any way to get justice for a black boy executed 70 years ago at age 14 for killing two white girls.

Judge Carmen Mullen heard two days of arguments and testimony on the arrest, trial and execution of George Stinney in 1944, the New York Times reported. She opened the hearing Tuesday in Sumter by calling the case "tragic," the (Charleston) Post and Courier reported.

Stinney, who lived with his family in the small mill town of Alcolu, was convicted of killing two white girls in a trial that lasted less than a day by an all-white jury that deliberated for 10 minutes. He was executed 63 days after his arrest.

Stinney was the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century and the youngest on record in South Carolina.

In one sign that times have changed, Ernest A. Finney III, solicitor for the Third Circuit Court, is black. Like the judge, he conceded that Stinney did not get fair treatment but argued against a new trial, the Times said.

"Back in 1944, we should have known better, but we didn't," Finney said. "The fact of the matter is, it happened, and it occurred because of a legal system of justice that was in place."

After the hearing ended, Mullen asked lawyers to submit additional briefs. She did not say when she expects to rule.

While Mullen said the hearing is to determine if Stinney received a fair trial, one legal issue is whether there is any recourse when a defendant is dead. Joe McCullough, a defense lawyer who became involved in the case on behalf of the NAACP, told WLTX-TV in Columbia the "court of public opinion" may be the most effective venue.

"I don't think there is an effective way to clear his name. You can't try someone under these circumstances in their absence," he said.

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