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New trial sought for South Carolina teen executed for 1944 murders


(Reuters) - Attorneys in South Carolina say they have fresh evidence that warrants a new trial in the case of a 14-year-old black teenager put to death nearly 70 years ago for the murders of two white girls.

George Stinney Jr. was the youngest person to be executed in the United States in the last century, and attorneys say the request for another trial so long after a defendant's death is the first of its kind in the state.

No official record of the original court proceedings exists; no trial participants are alive, and no evidence was preserved. The law is unclear on whether any statute of limitations would prevent the case from being reopened.

Despite those obstacles, attorneys for Stinney's family will argue at a hearing on Tuesday that the crime that rocked the small mill town of Alcolu in 1944 deserves another look.

"This is a horrific case," defense lawyer Steven McKenzie said. "Whether justice is 70 years old or one year old or one month old, we think justice needs to be done."

The defense filed its motion requesting a new trial in October based on newly discovered evidence. Since then, new witnesses who could help exonerate Stinney have come forward, including a former cell mate who says the teen told him police forced his confession, attorneys said.

The defense also is relying on old newspaper accounts and a few records in state and county archives to make their case to a judge in Sumter, about 20 miles from the town where Stinney was tried and convicted.

Lawyers said they had determined Stinney was convicted solely on testimony by police who said the teen confessed to killing Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, 7. The two girls disappeared on March 23, 1944, after leaving home on their bicycles to look for wildflowers.

The girls rode a distance of about a mile to a railroad track that divided the segregated town, according to the defense's account of the case in court records.

Stinney and his younger sister Amie were sitting on the tracks as their family cow grazed nearby. Stinney's sister recalls the girls asking where they could find flowers before both pairs of children went their separate ways.

Binnicker and Thames never returned home. A search party found their bodies the next morning in a shallow ditch behind a church. Their skulls had been crushed and the bicycles laid on top of them.

After Stinney told someone he had seen the girls along the railroad tracks, he was picked up by police and held for five days before being arrested, said Matthew Burgess, one of the attorneys seeking a new trial.

"Since he became identified as the person who had seen them last before they died, they decided to arrest him," Burgess said.

The teen's family was run out of town, and his siblings never saw him again, Burgess said.


Stinney's lawyers called no witnesses during his daylong trial a month after the murders, according to the current defense team, and a jury of white men deliberated for only 10 minutes before finding him guilty.

Then-governor Olin D. Johnston refused to grant clemency. Stinney, who weighed just 95 pounds, was executed by electrocution in June 1944.

Solicitor Ernest "Chip" Finney III, the prosecutor who will appear at the hearing this week for the state, said the case was the most interesting one ever to cross his desk. But he said he will argue that no information about the original trial exists to show it had been conducted improperly.

"We're talking about procedures and rules 70 years ago that none of us were around to understand," said Finney, son of the first black chief justice on the state's Supreme Court. "There's not going to be enough evidence to open it up."

Relatives of Binnicker, one of the girls killed, do not want the case revisited without good reason, Finney said.

"If there was strong evidence to support the fact that this young man was not involved, they would not want to see the case remain closed," the prosecutor said. "But they don't want to see it opened for the fact that South Carolina has a bad history in these kinds of cases."

Burgess said a member of the search party that found the girls' bodies has offered new testimony that raises questions about where the crime was carried out and whether Stinney was capable of doing it.

Stinney's sister, Amie Ruffner, now in her 70s and living in New Jersey, will testify that Stinney was with her the entire day of the murders and could not have killed the girls, Burgess said.

She was never asked to speak on her brother's behalf at the original trial.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Gunna Dickson)

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dedndogyrs January 26 2014 at 8:17 PM

The evidence is that George Stinney was guilty. He was the last person to be seen with the girls and when he was brought in for questioning (1.) he didn't say that he was innocent and just went home after being with them. He immediately told an unbelievable story that the girls attacked him and he killed them in self defense. A different police officer then offered him ice cream to tell the truth and may have told him that because of his age he could go home if he told the truth (lying is a common way police get people to tell the truth.) He then told the police officer that he followed the girls and killed the younger girl so he could "have sex" with the older girl. When she resisted and ran, he chased her. It appears he got them when they were picking the flowers they wanted or they were sitting or laying down. (2.) He led the police officers to the murder weapon. (3.) He showed no emotion in the courtroom or later on. (3.) He did not claim innocence while being strapped into the electric chair or during any last words. (4.) No similar crimes were committed after Stinney was arrested. Sex murderers usually always repeat their crimes.

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thomas.webb30 January 26 2014 at 1:41 AM

we all nothe history of trials in south for blacks jury sit laugh make fun of the accused black i think we all know what im getting at no justice was done i feel the family should want the fulltruth ithe killings were probably done by someone who knows them real good thats why they beat them so brutal so what ever they did to them they couldnt speak about it GERORGE STINNEY WOULD HAVE NO REASON TO BEAT THOSE YOUNG GIRLS LIKE THAT THAT BEATING SEEM VERY PERSONELL

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Joey January 22 2014 at 10:39 AM

What about the rumor that an older black relative murdered the two girls ??? Has everyone just forgotten about that ???

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motorsteel94 January 21 2014 at 6:44 PM



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greeneyes307 January 21 2014 at 12:31 AM

I can't believe that a human being would put a 14 year old to death by electrocution and I don't think there was even enough evidence it was the 14 year old who did it . I truly think it needs to be looked into and justified for the family's sake. It is sad that the United States of American would have allowed such a thing to happen.

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ljnace January 21 2014 at 1:03 PM

If the boy was a rich white boy this would have an all togather outcome.

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dedndogyrs January 22 2014 at 8:38 AM

Rich yes. White no. Juries don't like men who kill women and girls for sex.

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D.CLEMENTS January 20 2014 at 8:17 PM


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D.CLEMENTS January 20 2014 at 8:16 PM

Some of the Dukes of Hazzard relatives are saying move on and complaining about cost...

Well, Were is the outrage when the US Government is actively investigating and detaining suspected Nazi Members and Associates for prosecution?

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twopickers January 20 2014 at 8:27 PM

Since we are reliving history, why don't we go all the way back to Salem where the yankees burned 36 people alive for being witches. Maybe we could retry them and put some of the blame on you yanks. We could go to west where in the 1800's indians we slaughtered under the American flag. Maybe we should try the calvary. WHy is only whne blacks were mistreated does it matter. Please answer that yankee doodle dandy. My point being, it wasn't only the south that made huge mistakes. But the hypocrits only remember the south. We tried to get out of the union and the damn yankees wouldn't let us.

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dedndogyrs January 21 2014 at 10:28 AM

I guess they didn't like the idea of holding innocent people prisoner and making them work for free.

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D.CLEMENTS January 27 2014 at 4:09 AM

Yes Yosemety Sam...
History if filled with Crimes Against Humanity caried out by your distant relatives undisputed.

However Genius;
1. Colonialist were't Yankeees.
2. Native Americans got Reparations, a Self-Governing Nation and Tax Free Casinos.
3. Only you from the side of your neck speaks of "Only Blacks,, Why matter...". Well again old un-enlighten one it's about righting a WRONG, and I know you want to escape the pass of your forefathers corrupt, theifving, enslaving, demonic, immoral, heathenistical ways... But sorry, You have a better shot at getting a Jew to move on and stop memoralizing the Holocaust.

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Marilyn Heyward January 20 2014 at 6:53 PM

wow!! so ppl's say that these days we live in are no diffrences from those days.. Yes open it up. you have new way to find out.. JS.. ugh..

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ihave1465fans January 20 2014 at 6:46 PM

Anyone can write a story tha makes it sound like the criminal didn't do it, especially when there are no actual facts in existence to prove things one way or the other.

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dedndogyrs January 26 2014 at 8:19 PM

There was evidence that he did it; see my post above.

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PAUL AND MARIA January 20 2014 at 6:28 PM

the poor scared boy, he was a man to endure what he endured, but it is a shamed that just because he was black, 99% probability, he was killed! even 70 years ago, the world was crap!!!

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dedndogyrs January 26 2014 at 8:22 PM

Although I do not agree with executing a 14-year-old, and being black didn't help his case, and the farther back in time you go the worse things were, there is real evidence that this kid was guilty.

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