COLUMBIA, South Carolina (AP) — George Stinney has been dead since 1944, when as a 14-year-old black boy he became the youngest person executed in the United States in the past century, for killing two white girls. Now his supporters are taking the unheard-of step of asking for a new trial.
Stinney’s case brings together two of the longest-running disputes in the American legal system — the death penalty and race.
Stinney was convicted on a shaky confession in a segregated society that wanted revenge for the beating deaths of two girls, ages 11 and 7, according to a lawsuit filed last month on Stinney’s behalf in South Carolina.
He was electrocuted just 84 days after the girls were killed. Newspaper stories reported that witnesses said the straps to keep him in the electric chair didn’t fit around his small frame.
The request for a new trial is largely symbolic, but Stinney’s supporters say they would prefer exoneration to a pardon — which they’ve asked for as well.
The judge may refuse to hear the request for a new trial, since the punishment was already carried out.
“I think it’s a long shot, but I admire the lawyer for trying it,” said Kenneth Gaines, a professor at the University of South Carolina’s law school. He said he’s not aware of any other executed inmates in the state being granted a new trial posthumously.
The two girls were last seen looking for wildflowers in the racially divided mill town of Alcolu. Stinney’s sister, who was 7 at the time, says in her new affidavit for the lawsuit that she and her brother were letting their cow graze when the girls asked them where they could find flowers called maypops. The sister, Amie Ruffner, said her brother told them he didn’t know, and the girls left.
Watch news story of new developments on the case below: