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S.C. Judge Rules 1944 Execution Of 14-Year-Old Boy Was Wrong

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here's a story about justice arriving too late. Seventy years ago, a black teenage boy was sent to the electric chair for the murder of two white girls in South Carolina. He was the youngest person executed in the United States in the past century. Well, now a judge has thrown out that conviction, ruling the teen did not receive a fair trial. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Segregation still ruled Alcolu, South Carolina, when 14-year-old George Stinney Jr. was found guilty in 1944. He was electrocuted for the deaths of 7-year-old Mary Emma Thames and 11-year-old Betty June Binnicker, whose sister Lorraine Bailey recalled the case in a 2004 NPR interview produced by Sound Portraits.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

LORRAINE BAILEY: Everybody knew that he'd done it even before they had the trial. They knew that he'd done it. But I don't think they had too much of a trial.

WANG: George Stinney's family has tried for years to find a way to exonerate him. His youngest sister, Katherine, told NPR in 2004 that she remembered how the accusations against Stinney hurt their mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

KATHERINE ROBINSON: I would hear her praying. She said, I just want you to change the minds of men that my son didn't do this. But it wasn't long after that that they just did it. And he was gone.

WANG: The trial lasted less than a day, and the all-white jury deliberated for 10 minutes. They decided to convict George Stinney, who was sentenced to the electric chair the same day. Matt Burgess, an attorney for the Stinney family, says there were no appeals.

MATT BURGESS: That's definitely not normal. Even then, it wasn't normal.

WANG: Now a court has ruled that George Stinney was not given due process. Frank Wu, chancellor and dean of the University of California Hastings College of the Law has studied the case.

FRANK WU: Now the story is the young man was put to death by the state for a crime he probably didn't commit - maybe he did, but certainly there isn't proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

WANG: From time to time, wrote South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen in her decision, we are called to look back to examine our still recent history and correct injustice where possible. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.