No decision made in George Stinney hearing

A hearing to determine whether or not an executed teen deserves a new trial ended without a ruling Tuesday. Nearly 70 years ago, George Stinney Jr. was executed in South Carolina after he was convicted of murdering two young girls using a railroad spike.

A South Carolina judge heard from lawyers representing Stinney’s surviving family, who argued Stinney did not receive due process and deserves a “remedy” from the court. The two girls, Betty June Binnicker and Mary Emma Thames, allegedly saw George and his sister Amie on March 23, 1944, a day before they were found murdered.  The two girls, 11 and 7 respectively, allegedly asked George where they could find maypops in the area.

Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen reminded those gathered in the courtroom that the purpose of the hearing was not to determine the guilt or innocence of Stinney but whether or not he received a fair trial back in April of 1944.

Ernest “Chip” Finney, III., the solicitor assigned to represent the state in this case, argued that Stinney received a trial which was deliberated upon by 12 jurors not connected to the case and was convicted.

“The evidence here is too speculative and the record too uncertain for the motion to succeed,” Finney argued in his opening statement. He did concede the court should “take comfort” that an execution of a 14-year-old teen would not happen in 2014.

“Back in 1944, we should have known better, but we didn’t,” Finney said of Stinney’s execution.

TheGrio | Brother of George Stinney speaks out (VIDEO)

George’s two sisters, Katherine Stinney-Robinson and Amie Ruffner, traveled to the Sumter, South Carolina courtroom as defense witnesses. Both took the stand, testifying their brother George was with family during the time the murders occurred.

George’s brother Charles provided video testimony from an interview he taped with lawyers back in November, which was played back in the courtroom. Charles lives in Brooklyn but is too ill to travel. He said he wasn’t home when George or Amie saw the two girls, but remembers eating dinner together with them as a family the night the girls disappeared.

Amie said George and her father joined the community search efforts to find the two missing girls that night.

Defense lawyer Matt Burgess read the testimony of pathologist Peter Stephens, who was not present. Stephens’ testimony questioned the validity of the original autopsy report which concluded the girls had been killed by a railroad spike.

The testiest exchange of the hearing took place when Solicitor Finney cross-examined Amie about what she did or didn’t remember in 1944.  Judge Mullen had to calm the two down before the cross-examination continued.

A recurring theme for the prosecution  was the passage of time. Both Solicitor Finney and Judge Mullen questioned why 70 years had passed before attempts were made by the family to pursue remedies for their brother George.

“Sometimes, you don’t know which road to take, which step to rectify this,” said Ruffner, who said she wrote letters to various people, including Oprah Winfrey, for help on this case.

Lead council for the defense Steve McKenzie countered the ‘no action’ argument by reminding the court Stinney’s parents were not in a position financially to pursue legal action. No attorneys came forward to the Stinney family until the firm of Coffee, Chandler and McKenzie agreed to take up the case pro bono.

Day two of the hearing will start tomorrow at 10 a.m. at Sumter County Judicial Center.

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