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Thread: South Carolina Notable Executions

  1. #1
    Administrator Michael's Avatar
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    Oct 2010

    South Carolina Notable Executions

    S.C. crusaders look to right Jim Crow justice wrongs

    MANNING, S.C. (AP) — In a South Carolina prison 65 years ago, guards walked a 14-year-old boy, Bible tucked under his arm, to the electric chair. At 95 pounds, the straps don’t fit, and an electrode was too big for his leg.

    The switch was pulled and the death mask fell from George Stinney’s face. Tears streamed from his eyes. Witnesses recoiled in horror as they watched the youngest person executed in the United States in the past century die.

    A community activist is now fighting to clear Stinney’s name, saying the young black boy couldn’t have killed two white girls. George Frierson, a 56-year-old school board member and textile inspector, believes Stinney’s confession was coerced, and that his execution was just another injustice blacks suffered in Southern courtrooms in the first half of the 1900s.

    In a couple of cases like Stinney’s, petitions are being made before parole boards and court are being asked to overturn decisions made when society’s thumb was weighing the scales of justice against blacks. These requests are buoyed for the first time in generations by money, college degrees and sometimes clout.

    “I hope we see more cases like this because it help brings a sense of closure. It’s symbolic,” said Howard University law professor Frank Wu. “It’s not just important for the individuals and their families. It’s important for the entire community. Not just for African-Americans, but for whites and for our democracy as a whole. What these cases show is that it is possible to achieve justice.”

    Some have already achieved justice. Earlier this year, syndicated radio host Tom Joyner successfully won a posthumous pardon for two great-uncles who were executed in South Carolina.

    Three years ago in Mississippi, a judge threw out a trumped-up 1960 burglary conviction and seven-year prison sentence against Clyde Kennard in a dispute over $25 in chicken feed. The year before, Lena Baker, a black Georgia maid sent to the electric chair for killing a white man, received a pardon after her family pointed out she likely killed the man because he was holding her against her will.

    In the Stinney case, supporters want the state to admit that officials executed the wrong person in June 1944.

    Stinney was accused of killing two white girls, ages 11 and 7, by beating them with a railroad spike then dragging their bodies to a ditch near Acolu, about five miles from Manning in central South Carolina. The girls were found a day after they disappeared following a massive manhunt. Stinney was arrested a few hours later, white men in suits taking him away. Because of the risk of a lynching, Stinney was kept at a jail 50 miles away in Columbia.

    Stinney’s father, who had helped look for the girls, was fired immediately and ordered to leave his home the sawmill provided. “They had to leave town walking,” said Frierson, who discovered the case three years ago.

    Frierson hasn’t been able to get the case out of his head since, carrying around a thick binder of old newspaper stories and documents, including an account from an execution witness.

    The sheriff at the time said Stinney admitted to the killings, but there is only his word — no written record of the confession has been found. A lawyer helping Frierson with the case figures threats of mob violence and not being able to see his parents rattled the seventh-grader.

    Attorney Steve McKenzie said he has even heard one account that says detectives offered the boy ice cream once they were done.

    “You’ve got to know he was going to say whatever they wanted him to say,” McKenzie said.

    The court appointed Stinney an attorney — a tax commissioner preparing for a Statehouse run. In all, the trial — from jury selection to a sentence of death — lasted one day. Records indicate 1,000 people crammed the courthouse. Blacks weren’t allowed inside.

    The defense called no witnesses and never filed an appeal. No one challenged the sheriff’s recollection of the confession.

    “As an attorney, it just kind of haunted me, just the way the judicial system worked to this boy’s disadvantage or disfavor. It did not protect him,” said McKenzie, who is preparing court papers to ask a judge to reopen the case.

    Stinney’s official court record contains less than two dozen pages, several of them arrest warrants. There is no transcript of the trial.

    The lack of records, while not unusual, makes it harder for people trying to get these old convictions overturned, Wu said.

    But these old cases also can have a common thread.

    “Some of these cases are so egregious, so extreme that when you look at it, the prosecution really has no case either,” Wu said. “It’s apparent from what you can see that someone was


    And sometimes, police under pressure by frightened citizens, jumped to conclusions rather than conducting a thorough investigation, Wu said.

    In Charleston, an author is trying to get officials to say a black man convicted of killing a white clothing store owner in 1911 was railroaded by police desperate to solve the crime.

    The Evening Post newspaper proclaimed it “the most dastardly and sensational crime that has happened in Charleston in several years.” Investigators questioned a half-dozen blacks and offered a $750 reward but couldn’t find a suspect until two weeks later, when the shopkeeper’s widow was attacked in the same store. Two white men grabbed Daniel “Nealy” Duncan, who was walking near the store as the woman staggered out.

    Duncan had a severe speech impediment, which no one who fingered him as the killer pointed out. There was no physical evidence, but Duncan was convicted in about an hour and hanged nine months later, according to Batt Humphreys, a former CBS News producer who researched the case for his new novel “Dead Weight” and has written the state asking for a posthumous pardon.

    “I could spend money and hire lawyers and all that but I’m not going to,” said Humphreys, whose book was published by Charleston’s Joggling Board Press.

    “It’s clearly their choice to do something and take positive action. By not taking action it will show the state has not grown in 100 years.”


  2. #2
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Oct 2010
    New trial sought for S.C. boy, 14, executed in 1944

    Supporters of a 14-year-old black boy executed in 1944 for killing two white girls are asking a South Carolina judge to take the unheard-of move of granting him a new trial in hopes he will be cleared of the charges.

    George 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 the lawsuit filed last month on Stinney's behalf in Clarendon County.

    The request for a new trial has an uphill climb. The judge may refuse to hear it at all, since the punishment was already carried out. Also, South Carolina has strict rules for introducing new evidence after a trial is complete, requiring the information to have been impossible to discover before the trial and likely to change the results, said Kenneth Gaines, a professor at the University of South Carolina's law school.

    "I think it's a longshot, but I admire the lawyer for trying it," Gaines said, adding that he's not aware of any other executed inmates in the state being granted a new trial posthumously.

    The request for a new trial is largely symbolic, but Stinney's supporters say they would prefer exoneration to a pardon.

    Stinney's case intersects some long-running disputes in the American legal system - the death penalty and race. At 14, he's the youngest person executed in the United States in past 100 years. He was electrocuted just 84 days after the girls were killed in March 1944.

    The request for a new trial includes sworn statements from two of Stinney's siblings who say he was with them the entire day the girls were killed. Notes from Stinney's confession and most other information deputies and prosecutors used to convict Stinney in a one-day trial have disappeared along with any transcript of the proceedings. Only a few pages of cryptic, hand-written notes remain, according to the motion.

    "Why was George Stinney electrocuted? The state can't produce any paperwork to justify why he was," said George Frierson, a local school board member who grew up in Stinney's hometown hearing stories about the case, and decided six years ago to start studying it and pushing for exoneration.

    The South Carolina Attorney General's Office will likely argue the other side of the case before the Clarendon County judge. A spokesman said their lawyers had not seen the motion and do not comment on pending cases. A date for a hearing on the matter has not been set.

    The girls were last seen looking for wildflowers in the tiny, racially-divided mill town of Alcolu about 50 miles southeast of Columbia. Stinney's sister, who was 7 at the time, said in her new affidavit 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.

    "It was strange to see them in our area, because white people stayed on their side of Alcolu and we knew our place," Ruffner wrote.

    The girls never came home, and hundreds of people searched for them through the night. They were found the next morning in a water-filled ditch, their heads beaten with a hard object, likely a railroad spike.

    Deputies got a tip the girls had been seen talking to Stinney. They came to Stinney's home and took him away. His family wouldn't see the boy again until after his trial. Newspaper accounts suggested a lynch mob was nearly formed to attack the teen in jail.

    Stinney's dad worked for the major mill in town and lived in a company house. He was ordered to leave after his son was arrested, said Stinney's brother Charles Stinney, who was 12 when his older brother was arrested. Charles Stinney's statement explains why the family didn't speak to authorities at the time.

    "George's conviction and execution was something my family believed could happen to any of us in the family. Therefore, we made a decision for the safety of the family to leave it be," Charles Stinney wrote in his sworn statement.

    Charles Stinney said he remembered the events vividly because "for my family, Friday, March 24, 1944, and the events that followed were our personal 9/11."

    Both statements were made in 2009. Lawyer Steve McKenzie said he planned to file the request for a new trial then, but heard from a man in Tennessee who claimed his grandfather was with George Stinney the day of the killings. McKenzie thought the information from someone not related to Stinney would be especially powerful, but the person suddenly stopped cooperating after stringing the lawyers along for years.

    The request for a new trial points out that at 95 pounds, Stinney likely couldn't have killed the girls and dragged them to the ditch.

    The motion also hints at community rumors of a deathbed confession from a white man several years ago and the possibility Stinney either confessed because his family was threatened or he was given ice cream. But the court papers provide little information, and the lawyers also wouldn't elaborate.

    At 14, Stinney was the youngest person executed in this country in the past 100 years, according to statistics gathered by the Death Penalty Information Center.

    Newspaper stories from his execution had witnesses saying the straps to keep him in the electric chair didn't fit around his small frame, and an electrode was too big for his leg.

    Executing teens wasn't uncommon at that time. Florida put a 16-year-old boy to death for rape in 1944, and Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio and Texas executed 17-year-olds that year.

    Lawyers also filed a request for to pardon Stinney before the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services in case the new trial is not granted.

    There is precedent for that. In 2009, two great-uncles of syndicated radio host Tom Joyner were pardoned by the board nearly 100 years after they were sent to the electric chair for the death of a Confederate Army veteran. Joyner's lawyers showed evidence the men were framed by a small-time criminal who took a plea deal that saved his life and testified against them.

    But Frierson said a pardon would be little comfort to him in the Stinney case. "The first step in a pardon is to admit you are wrong and ask for forgiveness," Frierson said. "This boy did nothing wrong."

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

  3. #3
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Oct 2010
    Prosecutor: New trial not needed for executed boy

    SUMTER, S.C. (AP) - The judge, prosecutor and defense lawyers all agree that justice, at least by today's standards, wasn't carried out 70 years ago when a 14-year-old black boy was sent to the electric chair for killing two white girls.

    But figuring out exactly what happened in March 1944 may be elusive, they said during the first day of a hearing into whether the boy, George Stinney, should get a new trial. People who attended the original trial have died and most of the evidence, including a transcript of the trial, has disappeared.

    Stinney was found guilty of killing 11-year-old Betty Binnicker and 7-year-old Mary Emma Thames just over a month after their bodies were found beaten in the head and left in a water-filled ditch. The trial lasted less than a day in the tiny Southern mill town of Alcolu, separated, as most were in those days, by race. His lawyers argued his conviction was tainted by racism and scant evidence.

    Nearly all the evidence, including Stinney's confession, has vanished. Lawyers working on behalf of Stinney's family have gathered new evidence, including sworn statements from his relatives accounting for his whereabouts the day the girls were killed and from a pathologist disputing the autopsy findings.

    But that evidence depends mostly on the unreliability of the human memory. Stinney's younger sister, who was 7 at the time, testified Tuesday about how she hid in a chicken coop when several white men in uniforms arrived at their home in strange-looking cars. She vividly remembered seeing her brother's burned body in a casket after his electrocution and the unmarked grave he was buried in. But on cross examination, Amie Ruffner struggled to remember details of a 2009 sworn statement she gave.

    "If you can't remember what you wrote down in 2009, why should we believe that you can believe something that happened in 1944?" prosecutor Ernest "Chip" Finney III said.

    Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen said her task isn't deciding whether Stinney is guilty or innocent, but whether he got a fair trial at the time.

    "What can I do? What can I rectify?" Mullen said at the beginning of the hearing. "And even if we did retry, Mr. Stinney, what would be the result? Again, none of us have the power to bring that 14-year-old child back."

    If Mullen finds in favor of Stinney, it could open the door for hundreds of other appeals.

    But the Stinney case is unique. At 14, he's the youngest person executed in the United States in the past 100 years. Even in 1944, there was an outcry over putting someone so young in the electric chair. Newspaper accounts said the straps in the chair didn't fit around his 95-pound body and an electrode was too big for his leg.

    Mullen acknowledged how the case was unusual.

    "No one here can justify a 14-year-old child being charged, tried, convicted and executed in some 80 days," she said.

    In 1944, Stinney was likely the only black in the courtroom. On Tuesday, the courtroom was packed with African-American supporters and the prosecutor arguing against him is the son of South Carolina's first black chief justice. Finney argued there shouldn't be a new trial because the evidence was lost with the passage of time. He said he is shocked and dismayed that the justice system took such little regard for a boy's life, but that was the way justice operated at that time.

    "Back in 1944, we should have known better, but we didn't," Finney said.

    South Carolina executed 59 people in the 1940s. Fifty of them were black, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The state's black population was 43 percent back then. It is about 28 percent today.

    Newspaper stories about Stinney's trial offer little clue whether any evidence was introduced beyond the teen's confession and an autopsy report. Some people around Alcolu said bloody clothes were taken from Stinney's home, but never introduced at trial because of his confession. No record of those clothes exists and Stinney's sisters and brothers all said they never saw him with bloody pants or a shirt.

    Relatives of the girls have recently spoke out as well, saying Stinney was known around town as a bully who threatened to fight or kill people who came too close to the grass where he grazed the family cow.

    Terri Evans, a cousin of Thames born years after she died, said it's a shame this hearing couldn't be held earlier. Her uncle was at the 1944 trial and watched Stinney's execution. He told her he was convinced of the teen's guilt and felt terrible for his family, too.

    "These people who were kids at the time, all they knew then was fear. There's no one living that was at the trial," Evans said. "Everything anyone says now is hearsay."

    The hearing will continue Wednesday. It isn't clear when the judge will rule.

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

  4. #4
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    Oct 2010
    Ruling in Stinney Hearing Could Come Next Month

    After Tuesday's hearing, a decision regarding the fairness of the 1944 trial and execution of a South Carolina teenager could come next month.

    George Stinney, the 14-year-old convicted in a 1944 death penalty case, was the youngest person executed in the United States in a century, the Charleston Post and Courier says.

    In recent years, the case has reportedly drawn attention from lawyers and activists who question Stinney's guilt.

    Stinney, accused of murdering two young girls, was convicted in a trial that lasted just one day.

    The hearing this week is not being held to determine whether or not Stinney was guilty of the crime, rather to decide whether he received a fair trial 70 years ago.

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

  5. #5
    Administrator Heidi's Avatar
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    S.C. boy executed for 1944 murder is exonerated

    BEAUFORT - S.C. - A 14-year-old South Carolina boy who was quickly convicted of murder and then executed in 1944 has been posthumously exonerated.

    Judge Carmen Tevis Mullen vacated George Stinney, Jr.'s conviction on Wednesday, stating that the boy's prosecution was marked by "fundamental, Consitutional violations of due process."

    According to the judge's order, Stinney, who was black, was accused of beating two white girls, Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, 7, to death. The girls' bodies were found in a ditch in rural Alcolu, S.C., on March 24, 1944. One month later, Stinney went on trial for Binnicker's murder. The trial lasted one day and the all-white, all-male jury deliberated for just 10 minutes before pronouncing the 14-year-old guilty and sentencing him to die by electrocution.

    He was executed on June 16, 1944.

    Judge Mullen pointed to multiple problems with the prosecution of the case, including the fact that although the prosecution presented evidence that Stinney confessed, there is no written record of a confession. She also concluded that the defense attorney representing the boy called "few or no witnesses" and conducted "little or no cross-examination."

    In January 2014, Stinney's surviving relatives testified that the boy was at home the day of the murders and could not have committed the crime.

    Stinney's now-77-year-old sister Amie Ruffner told CBS affiliate WLTX in January that the two girls her brother was executed for killing came by their house asking where they could buy flowers and then left. She said she and her brother then went back to tending to the family's cow.

    "(The police) were looking for someone to blame it on, so they used my brother as a scapegoat," Ruffner told the station.

    A man named Wilford "Johnny" Hunter also testified that he spent time with Stinney in jail before the trial and that he recalls the boy appearing "small and frail," according to the judge's order. Hunter said the boy told him that "he didn't kill those girls and they made him say those things."

    Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Amanda Salas testified on the reliability of a confession by a young black teenager being questioned by white law enforcement officers in the segregated South. According to the judge's order, Dr. Salas "concluded to a reasonable degree of psychiatric certainty that any confession given was a coerced, compliant false confession and is unreliable."

    According to WLTX, the victims' relatives and Third Circuit Solicitor Chip Finney argued that the conviction should stand.

    But Judge Mullen disagreed, calling Stinney's trial and execution a "truly unfortunate episode in our history."

    An uninformed opponent is a dangerous opponent.

    "Y'all be makin shit up" ~ Markeith Loyd

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