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George Stinney Gets Day in Court After 70 Years

The recorded affidavit of Bishop Charles Stinney, the brother of George Stinney, was played during court.

By Jeffrey Collins

SUMTER, S.C. — Lawyers finally got the chance to argue on behalf of George Stinney, 70 years after the 14-year-old black boy was sent to the electric chair for killing two white girls in South Carolina.

Whether his conviction from that segregation-era court is tossed out is now up to Judge Cameron Mullen after a two-day hearing. She gave both sides at least 10 more days to consult witnesses and make more arguments.

The hearing at least gave Stinney something he was denied in 1944 — his day in court. His white lawyer back then called no witnesses and did no cross-examination. He normally handled civil cases and was running to be a legislator at a time when almost all voters were white. The boy was likely the only black face in the courthouse.

At the hearing, Stinney’s two sisters and brother testified, remembering a young man who liked to draw and walked the family cow to a field near the railroad tracks. They also recalled their fear of white men in uniforms and strange looking cars who came and took the teen and his brother away. Stinney’s older brother, Johnny, was let go after George confessed. But he almost never talked about it again. The rest of the family didn’t see the teen again until his funeral, when Stinney’s body, burned from the electric chair, was put in an open casket.

Stinney’s supporters are making a novel argument in South Carolina, saying the case was handled so badly that it was never really closed. The only evidence remaining is indictments and some fairly cryptic handwritten notes that appear to be from the prosecutor. Newspaper accounts at the time suggest Stinney confessed and the iron spike or bar used to beat the girls to death was found with Stinney’s bloody clothes. But all that evidence is gone.

The Stinney case has been long remembered by civil rights leaders in South Carolina as another mark on the state’s history of race relations. South Carolina executed 289 people in the 20th century, and 82 percent of them were black, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

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