South Carolina Teenager Exonerated of Murder Charges After 70 Years
South Carolina exonerated a black teenager who was convicted of murdering two white girls in 1944 on Tuesday, December 16th.
George Stinney Jr was charged with murder at the young age of 14, convicted and sentenced to death. He stood convicted for 7o years of murdering two young white girls, 11-year-old Betty June Binnicker and 7-year-old Mary Emma Thomas in March of 1944. At the time, much of the South was deeply segregated, and numerous Jim Crow laws prevented African American residents from not only voting, but from using public water fountains and dining establishments, among other daily activities, with white citizens.
Stinney was convicted by a jury of 12 white men, after just one day and a 10 minute deliberation. The child was represented by a tax attorney at his trial, rather than a criminal defense attorney, and he did not appeal the jury’s ruling – most likely because he was unaware of the process.
However, Stinney’s family maintained his innocence across multiple generations, and after 7 decades of fighting, finally won an exoneration for the teen. His siblings originally testified that he was not alone that day, providing an alibi, and that he was too physically small to handle the murder weapon, which was suspected to be either an iron rod or a railroad spike.
After deliberating for almost a year, the judges in the exoneration case ruled that Stinney did not, and could not have, received a fair trial. Given the “fundamental, constitutional violations of due process” in Stinney’s prosecution, his conviction must be overturned, according to the Dec. 16 ruling.
“We know that law enforcement separated the defendant from his parents and otherwise took advantage of his age and stature to garner a result they predetermined to be true and just,” Circuit Judge Carmen Tevis Mullen wrote. “This confession simply cannot be said to be known and voluntary, given the facts and circumstances of this case highlighting the defendant’s age and suggestibility.”
Many courts have only recently ruled that it is unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on legal minors. The ruling took this into account, and stated that in spite of the lack of guidelines for capital punishment at the time, the penalty constituted cruel and unusal punishment.
“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,” Mullen concluded.
Strom Law Firm Attorney and Former S.C. Rep. Bakari Sellers – son of Palmetto State civil rights pioneer Cleveland Sellers – applauded the exoneration ruling. “Anytime we can balance the scales of justice – even seventy years later – we must. Judge Mullen has to be applauded for not doing what was easy but doing what’s right.”
The Strom Law Firm Can Help with Expungement of Criminal Records
A criminal record can follow you for a lifetime. If you have been wrongfully accused or convicted of a criminal activity, the state of South Carolina does not offer exoneration, but does offer expungement of criminal records. The attorneys at the Strom Law Firm can help. We offer free, confidential consultations to discuss the facts of your case, so contact us today.