New trial sought in 69-year-old murder case

11/03/2013 6:00 AM

03/14/2015 9:15 AM

Nearly 70 years after the state labeled him a murderer, George Stinney's 1944 conviction for the slaying of two young girls may soon be overturned.

The Coffey, Chandler and McKenzie law firm has filed a motion with the Clarendon County clerk of court for a new trial in the case of the youngest person put to death in the United States in the last 100 years.

The Manning firm's motion, filed Friday, Oct. 25, cites newly sworn affidavits from Stinney's still-living siblings providing the 14-year-old with an alibi. Witnesses for the accused weren't able to testify at the time, attorneys say, because his trial was conducted in a prejudicial atmosphere.

"When he was arrested in 1944, his family was essentially run out of town," said attorney Matt Burgess. "They couldn't testify."

At a time when whites and blacks were expected to stay on opposite sides of the railroad tracks, a black Alcolu youth was charged with the murder of two young white girls. Eleven-year-old Betty June Binnicker and her 8-year-old friend Mary Emma Thames were found bludgeoned to death in a ditch on March 24, 1944, and suspicion soon fell on 14-year-old Stinney, who was the last person to see the girls alive as they picked wildflowers.

He was arrested later the same day and tried a month later. The trial lasted two hours, Stinney's white court-appointed attorney presented no defense, and an all-white jury took 10 minutes to find the boy guilty. On June 16, less than three months after the murders, Stinney died in the electric chair.

But in their motion, Coffey, Chandler and McKenzie cite new affidavits from Stinney's brother and sister that were never presented at trial.

Stinney's now-76-year-old sister Aime Ruffner, who lives in Newark, N.J., was with her older brother when they encountered the girls as the siblings tended the family cow.

"The cow finished drinking water, my brother put the cow in the shed, and we went in the house to eat and start our school work," Ruffner said.

Not only wasn't the Stinney family able to defend their son and brother at trial, but also after the arrest George Stinney Sr. was fired from his job at the lumber mill.

"My entire family had to move that night and go and live with my grandmother in Pinewood," brother Charles Stinney said in his statement. "I remember my mother and father being very afraid for the safety of the family. I recall my father being upset that he was not allowed to speak to or see George prior to his trial."

Burgess is sure the motion for a new trial will be successful, which so long after the trial would essentially exonerate the young defendant so many decades after his death. Besides the absence of any other known living participants in the case, the firm's motion asserts that no documentation from the original trial could be found and the key piece of evidence against Stinney, his alleged confession, may have never been written down at all.

Attorneys for Stinney plan to travel to Charles Stinney's New York home next week to take a deposition from the 82-year-old for the upcoming hearing on the motion.

"People have been telling them for years this was going to happen," Burgess said. "They're probably skeptical, but I've tried to assure them their brother's name will finally be cleared."

A date for a hearing has not been set, but Burgess believes once they get to court, Stinney's conviction could be set aside fairly quickly.

"Hopefully, it will be done by Christmas," he said.

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