As a result of CRRJ’s efforts and a team of pro bono lawyers, a state judge in South Carolina vacated the conviction of George Stinney, a 14-year-old African-American boy who was sent to the electric chair in the small, segregated mill town of Alcolu, South Carolina. Stinney, the youngest person ever executed in America, was convicted in 1944 by an all-white jury of the first-degree murder of two young white girls.
“The opinion here teaches that courts bear a responsibility to correct horrific judicial wrongs, no matter how long ago they occurred” said Professor Margaret Burnham, founder and director of CRRJ. “This case, the first of its kind, will stand as a model as we revisit and rectify past racial harms.”
In an amicus brief filed in early 2014 and co-authored by Burnham and Professor Michael Meltzner, the CRRJ team called Stinney’s trial and death penalty conviction a “grave miscarriage of justice,” and that the teenager’s “shocking treatment was inconsistent with the most fundamental notions of due process.” The prosecutor relied, almost exclusively, on one piece of evidence to obtain a conviction: Stinney’s unrecorded, unsigned “confession.”
“This is a case in which a 14-year-old child was deprived of counsel and parental guidance, and was represented by a defense lawyer who shockingly failed to call exculpating witnesses or to preserve his right of appeal,” said Burnham.
In December, 70 years after the execution, Judge Carmen Mullins of the South Carolina Circuit Court exonerated Stinney, stating that Stinney’s right to due process was violated because he was virtually denied a defense.