Supporters of George Stinney argued Tuesday that there wasn’t enough evidence to find him guilty in 1944 of killing a 7-year-old and an 11-year-old girl.
Back in 1944, Stinney, who was 14-years-old, was convicted of killing 11-year-old Betty Binnicker and 7-year-old Mary Emma Thames in the Clarendon County town of Alcolu. He then was executed in the electric chair.
The girls were white, and Stinney Jr. was black.
The town, however, is haunted by much more than real estate relics. In late March 1944, Mary Emma Thames, 7, and Betty June Binnicker, 11, went missing while out riding their bikes, searching for wildflowers. The bodies of the two were found the next day partly submerged in a drainage ditch, both suffering fatal, crushing blows to their skulls.
George Stinney, reportedly the last person to see the girls as he tended to his family’s cow when they stopped to ask for directions, quickly became the prime suspect and was taken in for questioning by police. They held Stinney for five days, then charged him after they said he confessed to the girls’ murders. At his trial, no physical evidence was presented, and jurors reportedly deliberated only 10 minutes before sentencing him to the electric chair, making him the youngest person executed in the U.S. in the last century.
New evidence, however, has prompted attorneys in the state to file a motion to clear Stinney’s name as they head to court Tuesday seeking a posthumous exoneration.
“The trial lasted t only one day the lawyer didn’t ask any questions on cross-examination which is stipulated to by the state, they called no witnesses, and they offered little or no defense in this case,” said Judge Carmen Mullen in her opening statement to the court.
“What we want is the truth to come out,” said Steve McKenzie, one of Stinney’s lawyers. “Do we have a case here that the court can give a remedy? We’re asking you today to look at that and give a remedy. Not only for George Stinney, Jr. for Betty Bennicker and Mary Thames.”
Third Circuit Solicitor Chip Finney agrees that it was wrong to put a child to death, but said that was the justice system at the time.
“The Stinney family and the family of the two victims and the Clarendon County community as a whole have suffered untold sorrow over this matter,” Finney said. “While we don’t have all the answers as to what happened in 1944 at the trial, we can take comfort in the fact…that in 2014 this result would not have happened.”
Finney added that much of the evidence in the case has been lost over the years, there are no surviving eyewitnesses, and no transcript of the trial.
Two of Finney’s sisters–as well as his brother via videotape–testified Tuesday. Catherine Stinney Robinson told the court said she never saw any bloody clothes around the house at the time of the killings. She said she remembered her brother’s arrest, and recalled that her family had to move after the killings.
Amie Ruffer, another of his sisters, also took the stand. She was eight when the killings took place. She and Robinson were asked by Stinney’s lawyers to account for the teen’s whereabouts on the day of the killings.
A tense exchange took place between Finney and Ruffer when he questioned her about a 2009 document that she apparently signed that gave details of her early life. (Finney did not tell the court how or if it pertained to the case). He asked her if she wrote it, and she said she wasn’t sure.
“If you can’t remember what you wrote down in 2009, why should we believe that you can believe something that happened in 1944?,” he asked.
“Because I was alive in 1944,” she replied.
His brother, Charles Stinney, testified George Stinney was doing chores on the day of the killing.
The defense also read a report by a doctor who reviewed the evidence, and questioned why there was not a significant amount of blood at the crime scene.
The hearing is set to resume Wednesday at 10 a.m.