Activist fights conviction that led to teen's execution

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MANNING, S.C. --- 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 didn't fit, and an electrode was too big for his leg.

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George Stinney Jr. died in the electric chair at age 14 in 1944. The case faces new scrutiny.  Associated Press
Associated Press
George Stinney Jr. died in the electric chair at age 14 in 1944. The case faces new scrutiny.

The switch was pulled and the death mask fell from George Stinney Jr.'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.

Now, a community activist is fighting to clear Mr. Stinney's name, saying the black boy couldn't have killed two white girls. George Frierson, a 56-year-old school board member and textile inspector, believes Mr. 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 such as Mr. Stinney's, petitions are being made before parole boards and courts 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 helps bring 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. Mr. 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. Mr. Stinney was arrested a few hours later, white men in suits taking him away. Because of the risk of a lynching, Mr. Stinney was kept at a jail 50 miles away in Columbia.

Mr. Frierson discovered the case three years ago. He 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 Mr. Stinney admitted to the killings, but there is only his word -- no written record of the confession has been found. A lawyer helping Mr. Frierson with the case figures threats of mob violence and not being able to see his parents rattled the teenager.

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," Mr. McKenzie said.

The court appointed Mr. 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 show 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 Mr. McKenzie, who is preparing court papers to ask a judge to reopen the case.

Mr. 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 makes it harder for people trying to get these old convictions overturned, Mr. 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," Mr. Wu said. "It's apparent from what you can see that someone was railroaded."

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

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.

There was no physical evidence, but Mr. 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.

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samlongshaft
0
Points
samlongshaft 01/18/10 - 07:57 am
0
0
Why don't you blacks give it

Why don't you blacks give it a rest an move on, jeez!

bettyboop
7
Points
bettyboop 01/18/10 - 08:15 am
0
0
According to the story it is

According to the story it is entirely possible that the boy was not guilty...so clear his name.

pantherluvcik
628
Points
pantherluvcik 01/18/10 - 08:17 am
0
0
You're an idiot samlong and I

You're an idiot samlong and I doubt the shaft, some of these people asking for pardons for what you call us blacks are actually not black. Some of them are white and not racist like yourself and actually care that an injustice occurred. It's the same thing as these guilty verdicts now getting overturned through DNA evidence, so what's your point. I wouldn't be surprised if some of these cases were railroaded by some of your ancestors, since ignorance is usually passed through blood lines and family beliefs.

justus4
99
Points
justus4 01/18/10 - 08:54 am
0
0
Christian nation, eh?
Unpublished

Christian nation, eh? Unbelievable that this story is not required reading for law enforcement. What an example of racism, hate, and an abuse of authority. This happens today even with all the so-called progress made, police agencies are havens for racial hatred and murder. Everyone knows that corruption is rapant in agencies throughout the nation. A 14 yr old killed at the hand of the state of S.C. and the courts will not address any kind of justice for this family. How can that state's supreme court be credible about anything especially race. Again, nothing new here except racist individuals hiding behind a so-called court system that allows killers to walk free. And the individuals who prosecuted the kid lived out their lives like heros and was given glowing praise in local papers, while THEY are actually killers. Oh, and where were the so-called Christians? They surely wasn't on the all-white jury!

Jane18
12332
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Jane18 01/18/10 - 09:26 am
0
0
j4- If young George was

j4- If young George was innocent, and I think he probably was, the people that executed him were not heroes, they were murderers. Do not think that just because they got away with their heinous act here on earth, that they are not going to pay for it, eventually. And where were the Christians? They were not real Christians, they were hypocrites(play actors). You need to have a little more faith in our Father, vengance is HIS.

JohnQPublic
5
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JohnQPublic 01/18/10 - 09:57 am
0
0
What kind of sick mess is

What kind of sick mess is this?! How did this "little stick of a child" murder two girls? Clear his name! The girls were probably murdered by some sick pedophile, who was probably the ring leader in getting this child executed. 3 people were murdered, the 2 girls and George! Too sad. How in God's green earth did any police, judge and jury in this country go along with this lie?!! I wonder who else did the real murderer end up killing?

ispy4u
0
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ispy4u 01/18/10 - 10:04 am
0
0
I see that SMARTIE has a new

I see that SMARTIE has a new user name.@6:57AM or is it Lancelot? Hard to tell.

jamesj
0
Points
jamesj 01/18/10 - 10:18 am
0
0
Would his time not be better

Would his time not be better spent trying save someone who is on death row now from the execution?

LancelotLink
0
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LancelotLink 01/18/10 - 10:21 am
0
0
ispy, wrong on all counts

ispy, wrong on all counts (again). You must be one heck of an analyst, first times and now this. Living proof that a race card can get you through a military career with no other qualifications.

55 F-100
1
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55 F-100 01/18/10 - 10:36 am
0
0
A complete waste of the

A complete waste of the court's time. If the court does not reopen the case, then McKenzie should be required to make a public apology to the State of South Carolina judicial system for wasting the court's time, and that apology should also be posted in the AC.

corgimom
28043
Points
corgimom 01/18/10 - 12:07 pm
0
0
He and his sister was the

He and his sister was the last known people to see them alive. And they are the ones who directed the two girls to the site. Makes you wonder, I have no idea if he is guilty or innocent.

fiscallyresponsible
121
Points
fiscallyresponsible 01/18/10 - 12:12 pm
0
0
I say clear his name provided

I say clear his name provided that there is no cost whatsoever to taxpayers. If someone feels strongly about it and wants to foot the bill to make this right then go right on ahead. This was 65 years ago, its sad if he was innocent, but I don't see the point of investigating this other than to stir up racial discontent.

Unbelievable
82
Points
Unbelievable 01/18/10 - 12:26 pm
0
0
It is a sad story,

It is a sad story, unfortunately saying 'they gave him ice cream' doesnt mean he was railroaded. Just because there are no transcripts doesnt mean he was taken advantage of. I find it hard to believe that a 14 year old boy could do that to anyone, let alone an 11 and 7 year old girl. If I was a betting man I would lean towards one of the police officers or judges being the actual individuals who perpetrated this crime. The truth needs to be known, I'm sure if it was one of your family members you would want the real crook brought to light.

lifelongresidient
0
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lifelongresidient 01/19/10 - 10:10 am
0
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hey 55, why is this a waste

hey 55, why is this a waste of the courts time??? it is possible that a grave injustice was done..this occurred during the time when it was possible for innocent blacks to be forced to plead guilty for crimes they did not committ..you back in the day when blacks were killed for merely wanting to do their civic duty such as voting, or assaulted or killed for joining the armed forces and having the "audacity" of wearing their uniform in the wrong place...but i guees that doesn't concern you...we are not talking about some "wannabe thug" were the evidence clearly shows he was guilty...this occurred when the constitutional rights of blacks was openly violated on a regular basis....i guess you think emmitt till deserved what happened to him also...

Spiritscollide
0
Points
Spiritscollide 09/24/11 - 09:04 am
0
0
Samlongshaft, Republican

Samlongshaft, Republican White Woman here.

This is not a black issue. It's a Human issue.

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