George Stinney Jr., 14, pictured above, was the youngest person put to death in the United States in the 20th century. But a judge in South Carolina voided his conviction Wednesday, saying the youth didn't get a fair trial when he was convicted of killing two white girls in the Jim Crow South.
[Stinney] was convicted of killing Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, 7, and was executed three months after their deaths.
In her ruling, Judge Carmen Tevis Mullen wrote that she was not overturning the case on its merits but on the failure of the court to grant Stinney a fair trial.
"From time to time we are called to look back to examine our still-recent history and correct injustice where possible," she wrote. "I can think of no greater injustice than a violation of one's constitutional rights, which has been proven to me in this case by a preponderance of the evidence standard."
Stinney had been hauled in hours after the girls were found bludgeoned, and he reportedly confessed, though family members have long argued the confession was coerced. He was charged in a trial lasting only a day and offering no physical evidence. This case hinged on prosecutors' assertion that the 95-pound boy had bashed both girls' heads in and then managed to carry them "a quarter-mile or more" to where they'd been found.
An all-white jury took 10 minutes to deliberate before convicting and condemning him. Only then—for the first time since his arrest, and for the only time until his execution—were Stinney's parents given access to him.
Legends say Stinney needed to sit on a stack of books to fit into his execution chair.
There is scant documentary evidence from the case, but newspapers reported that, because of his small stature, at 5ft 1in and weighing just 95lb, the guards had difficultly strapping him into a chair built for adults. When the switch was flipped and the first 2,400 volts surged through his body, the too-large death mask slipped from his face revealing the tears falling from his scared, open eyes. A second and third charge followed. He was pronounced dead on 16 June 1944.
South Carolina regrets the error.
[Photo: REUTERS/South Carolina Department of Archives and History/Handout]