- Associated Press - Monday, February 24, 2014

MANNING, S.C. (AP) - It is now up to a judge to decide whether to grant a new trial for a black 14-year-old electrocuted 70 years ago for the slaying of two white girls.

Judge Carmen Mullen held a two-day hearing last month in the case of George Stinney Jr., who was put to death following a 1944 trial in Clarendon County. He was the youngest person executed in the United States in the past 100 years.

On Monday, final arguments in the case were filed with the court. Late last week, a friend of the court brief was filed by the South Carolina Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“Put simply, the present case presents an egregious miscarriage of justice caused by the confluence of time, geography and a racial climate that would not be permitted today,” attorney Joseph McCulloch Jr. wrote on behalf of the civil rights organization.

During the original trial in the days of segregation, Stinney’s white lawyer called no witnesses and did not cross-examine any witnesses. A civil case lawyer, he was running to be a legislator at a time when almost all voters were white.

Stinney was condemned after a trial that took less than a day and no record of his confession was ever kept. The electrodes from the electric chair were too big to fit on his leg, according to newspaper articles at the time.

In documents filed after last month’s hearing, Solicitor Ernest “Chip” Finney III, the son of South Carolina’s first black chief justice, argued Stinney’s attorneys this time failed to prove his due-process rights were violated and the state “has not heard a reasonable explanation for the nearly 70-year delay in seeking this relief.”

He also argued that the circuit court, where the hearing was held, “may not be the appropriate venue to gain the relief sought,” and the case should have been brought before the state Supreme Court.

In a response brief filed with the Clarendon County Clerk of Court on Monday, Stinney attorney Miller Shealy wrote that the boy’s confession was most likely coerced and so was inadmissible at trial.

“The egregiousness of the state’s conduct in procuring and admitting into evidence the alleged confession is further amplified by the fact that Stinney was only 14 years old - a minor by law in 1944,” he wrote.

He also wrote that the lower court is the proper place to seek a new trial because there was no appeal to the Supreme Court following Stinney’s conviction.

Finney said Monday that he had not yet read the filings by Stinney’s attorneys but would likely not file another brief. The judge has not indicated when she may rule.

Writing on behalf of the NAACP, McCulloch contended that vacating the conviction does not exonerate Stinney of the charge against him.

But he wrote it can “demonstrate to the public that remedial action in the fact of injustice is always timely.”

He added: “Vacating the verdict can also serve as a symbolic recognition of the unfairness of the trial procedure in this case and that justice, even in 1944, demanded more.”