ALCOLU, S.C., Dec. 17 (UPI) -- George Stinney Jr., who was 14 when he died in South Carolina's electric chair 70 years ago, was cleared Wednesday of killing two young girls.
Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen found "fundamental, constitutional violations of due process" in Stinney's one-day trial before an all-white jury. During a two-day hearing in January, Mullen said she could not determine if the boy was guilty or innocent, only if the proceedings were fair.
"Given the particularized circumstances of Stinney's case, I find by a preponderance of the evidence standard, that a violation of the Defendant's procedural due process rights tainted his prosecution," Mullen said.
Stinney, the youngest person to be executed in the United States, at least in the 20th century, was so small he had to sit on a book when he was strapped into the electric chair. He was put to death 81 days after Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, 7, were killed in the small town of Alcolu, S.C.
The only real evidence against the boy was a confession he allegedly gave police officers after hours of questioning without his parents or a lawyer. He was alone during the trial because his family had been warned they would be lynched if they remained in Alcolu.
No written record of the confession was presented during the trial, and George Frierson, a historian who has been fighting to clear Stinney, said he has been unable to find one. Stinney later denied confessing.
The girls were out on their bicycles looking for flowers when they disappeared, and apparently stopped to ask Stinney and his sister if they knew where they could find "maypops," the local name for the passionflower. Their bodies were found in a ditch.
A memorial to Stinney was unveiled in June, a day before the 70th anniversary of his execution. Irene Lawson-Hill, a second cousin, said she has had nightmares about Stinney's death since her mother told her about it when she was 10.
"This case, of course, is another example of South Carolina's love and liking to be first in everything that's last and last in everything's that's first," said Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina NAACP.