SUMTER, S.C. (CN) - The youngest American executed in the 20th century, a 14-year-old black child, was denied a fair trial in Jim Crow-era South Carolina, petitioners for a new trial told a judge.
George Stinney Jr. was arrested in March 1944 on suspicion of murdering two white girls, 11 and 7, in Alcolu, S.C.
Stinney, who lived with his parents and four siblings in the segregated lumber mill town in Clarendon County, had seen the two girls earlier that day while grazing the family cow close to his home.
Amie Lou Ruffner testified years later that she had been with Stinney, her brother, that day, and the girls had approached them to ask where they could find maypop flowers.
A neighbor, known as Mrs. Daisy, witnessed the brief exchange, Ruffner said. After the girls left with their bikes, the Stinneys returned home, had dinner and did their chores and schoolwork as usual.
Stinney's brother Charles, who was 12 at the time, testified that George and Amie Lou did not look suspicious when they came home from the field, and that there was no evidence of a struggle.
When people realized the two girls were missing, a search party that included Stinney's father looked for them, and found their bodies in a ditch the next morning. The men found a bicycle on top of the girls, and the bicycle handlebars in a bush away from the ditch, according to police reports.
Shortly after the bodies were found, the police seized George Stinney and his half-brother, who was later released. Officers searched the Stinney home in vain for evidence, but never interviewed the siblings who allegedly could have provided an alibi.
The lumber company fired Stinney's father that evening, and the family was forced to leave town immediately under threats of violence from the angry white community.
One month later, Stinney was tried for the murder of the 11-year-old girl. An all-white jury found him guilty after deliberating for 10 minutes. The trial and the sentencing lasted a little more than two hours, witnesses said. None of the boy's relatives attended the trial, and there were no other black people in the courtroom.
Contemporary accounts indicate that Stinney's court-appointed attorney never cross-examined witnesses, nor did he call witnesses of his own. He also failed to pursue an appeal or stay of execution, and he never challenged Stinney's confession, which the boy allegedly gave without his parents or counsel present, Stinney's family said.
Stinney's family claimed that the indictment mentioned an "iron rod" as the murder weapon, and it attributed the information to Stinney's purported confession. The record however never mentioned a written confession, and medical reports showed the victims had died from blows caused with "a round instrument about the size of the head of a hammer," Stinney's survivors said.
The coroner's report indicated that the girls had not been raped, but the Alcolu community, police officials and the contemporary media nevertheless claimed Stinney had at least tried to rape the older girl. Even the state's governor disseminated rumors that Stinney had raped at least one of the victims, based on the responding police officer's account, court filings show.
In December 2013, Wilford "Johnny" Hunter, a detainee who was in jail with Stinney before his execution, testified that Stinney had told him he was innocent but was forced to say he had killed the girls.