- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 24, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A judge’s decision that South Carolina authorities were wrong execute a 14-year-old black boy just three months after he was arrested in the 1944 killing of two white girls in a segregated mill town will stand after a prosecutor Wednesday decided not to appeal.

The decision came in a press release emailed out Christmas Eve by Solicitor Ernest “Chip” Finney III. Finney, who is the son of South Carolina’s first black chief justice. Finney has said he is quite aware of the importance of George Stinney’s case in civil rights circles, but also had a responsibility to make sure justice is carried out fairly.

Finney called the Dec. 17 decision well-reasoned.

“The judge gave all of us a great Christmas gift. We know the system works, even though it can be slow at times,” Finney said in his news release.

Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen said in her ruling after hearing two days of testimony from Stinney’s brother and sisters and people involved with the search for the slain girls, ages 7 and 11, she was shocked by how badly the Jim Crow-era justice system treated Stinney. She also carefully stated her ruling shouldn’t apply to other cases where blacks may have been mistreated by the white-run judicial system.

In 1944, Stinney was arrested in March, tried in April and put to death in South Carolina’s electric chair in June.

Civil rights supporters in South Carolina long whispered about the case, saying it showed how easy it could be for a black defendant to be railroaded by police, prosecutors, juries and judges who were all white.

At the time, authorities said Stinney killed the girls by beating them in the head with a railroad spike after they asked him where they could find some flowers to pick.

But testimony during a two-day hearing by Mullen in January suggested Stinney was a small, frail boy so scared that he said whatever he thought would make the authorities happy, including confessing to a killing he did not commit.

Stinney’s supporters said there was no physical evidence linking him to the deaths. His executioners noted the electric chair straps didn’t fit him, and an electrode was too big for his leg. He was the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century.

The transcript from the trial and any evidence used against Stinney disappeared in the 60 years before interest in the case increased.

Mullen decided to overturn the conviction on a special rule developed in English law before the United States became a country called “corum nobis,” which means a case was handled so poorly by authorities there is no remedy but to throw the whole thing out. Finney said that decision was proper, and gave him no room to appeal.

“All South Carolinians can and should learn from this case. No person should be charged and convicted without the full protection of due process of law,” Finney said. “Likewise, no part of a community should rush to judgment of an accused, sacrificing the protections of our system of justice which is the best ever designed by the minds of men.”

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP

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