Lawyers finally got the chance to argue on behalf of George Stinney, 70 years after the 14-year-old black boy was sent to the electric chair for killing two white girls in South Carolina.
Whether his conviction from that segregation-era court is thrown out is now up to Judge Carmen Mullen after a two-day hearing concluded on Wednesday.
She gave both sides at least 10 more days to consult witnesses and make more arguments.
The hearing in Sumter at least gave Stinney something he was denied in 1944 – his day in court.
His white lawyer back then called no witnesses and did no cross-examination.
He normally handled civil cases and was running to be a politician at a time when almost all voters were white. The boy was probably the only black face in the courthouse.
At this week’s hearing, Stinney’s two sisters and brother testified, remembering a young man who liked to draw, and walked the family cow to a field near the railroad tracks. They also recalled their fear of white men in uniforms and strange-looking cars who came and took the teenager and his brother away.
Stinney’s older brother, Johnny, was let go after George confessed. But he almost never talked about it again. The rest of the family did not see the boy again until his funeral, when Stinney’s body, burned from the electric chair, was put in an open casket.
Solicitor Ernest “Chip” Finney III called his own witnesses, including a storekeeper’s son who was 10 at the time and remembered seeing investigators take clothes from Stinney’s home in Alcolu.
Frankie Dyches, the niece of 11-year-old Betty Binnicker who was killed, also testified that they tried to put the case behind them for decades, but it kept coming up. They finally decided to go public when people began accusing them of paying off the real killer, she said.
“He confessed. He was tried and found guilty by the laws of 1944, which were completely different now. It can’t be compared. I think it needs to be left as it is,” Ms Dyches said.
Stinney’s supporters are making a novel argument in South Carolina, saying the case was handled so badly that it was never really closed.
The only evidence remaining is indictments and some cryptic handwritten notes that appear to be from the prosecutor.
Newspaper accounts at the time suggest Stinney confessed and the iron spike or bar used to beat the girls to death was found with his bloody clothes. But all that evidence is gone.
“The state, as an entity, has very unclean hands,” said lawyer Miller Shealy, arguing for a re-trial.