George Stinney (Photo: South Carolina Department of Archives and History)
Sumter, SC (WLTX) - Day one of the hearing to determine if there will be a new trial in a 70-year-old murder case saw testimony from family members of the teen convicted all those years ago.
Proceedings began late Tuesday morning in the case of George Stinney Junior. Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen is presiding.
Back in 1944, Stinney, who was 14-years-old, was convicted of killing 11-year-old Betty Binnicker and 7-year-old Mary Emma Thames in the Clarendon County town of Alcolu. He then was executed in the electric chair. Previous Coverage: Stinney Sister Says Her Brother Didn't Do It | Victims Family Speaks Out in Stinney Case
The girls were white, and Stinney Jr. was black.
For years, there have been questions if the original trial was fair. Stinney's supporters say the young man was forced to confess, didn't have proper council, and wasn't allowed to have his parents around when he was questioned. Many of the records in the case, including the confession, have been lost.
Mullen called the situation a tragedy, but says the hearing isn't to determine if Stinney Jr. was innocent or guilty.
"The trial lasted t only one day the lawyer didn't ask any questions on cross-examination which is stipulated to by the state, they called no witnesses, and they offered little or no defense in this case," said Judge Carmen Mullen in her opening statement to the court.
"What we want is the truth to come out," said Steve McKenzie, one of Stinney's lawyers. "Do we have a case here that the court can give a remedy? We're asking you today to look at that and give a remedy. Not only for George Stinney, Jr. for Betty Bennicker and Mary Thames."
Third Circuit Solicitor Chip Finney agrees that it was wrong to put a child to death, but said that was the justice system at the time.
"The Stinney family and the family of the two victims and the Clarendon County community as a whole have suffered untold sorrow over this matter," Finney said. "While we don't have all the answers as to what happened in 1944 at the trial, we can take comfort in the fact...that in 2014 this result would not have happened."
Finney added that much of the evidence in the case has been lost over the years, there are no surviving eyewitnesses, and no transcript of the trial.
Two of Finney's sisters--as well as his brother via videotape--testified Tuesday. Catherine Stinney Robinson told the court said she never saw any bloody clothes around the house at the time of the killings. She said she remembered her brother's arrest, and recalled that her family had to move after the killings.
Amie Ruffer, another of his sisters, also took the stand. She was eight when the killings took place. She and Robinson were asked by Stinney's lawyers to account for the teen's whereabouts on the day of the killings.
A tense exchange took place between Finney and Ruffer when he questioned her about a 2009 document that she apparently signed that gave details of her early life. (Finney did not tell the court how or if it pertained to the case). He asked her if she wrote it, and she said she wasn't sure.
"If you can't remember what you wrote down in 2009, why should we believe that you can believe something that happened in 1944?," he asked.
"Because I was alive in 1944," she replied.
His brother, Charles Stinney, testified George Stinney was doing chores on the day of the killing.
The defense also read a report by a doctor who reviewed the evidence, and questioned why there was not a significant amount of blood at the crime scene.
The hearing is set to resume Wednesday at 10 a.m.