December 17, 2014 – As a result of efforts by the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice (CRRJ) Project of Northeastern University School of Law and a team of pro bono lawyers, a state judge has vacated George Stinney's murder conviction 70 years after his execution at the age of 14, accepting the argument that it was the duty of the court under the doctrine of coram nobis to correct this miscarriage of justice despite the passage of years. Stinney was the youngest person ever executed in America.

"Given the particularized circumstances of Stinney’s case, I find by a preponderance of the evidence standard, that a violation of the Defendant’s procedural due process rights tainted his prosecution," said Judge Carmen Mullins of the South Carolina Circuit Court in her ruling vacating Stinney's murder conviction. 

"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 earlier in 2014, CRRJ argued that courts should grant posthumous exonerations where there have been documented in grave miscarriages of justice, as in the Stinney matter. Stinney’s trial was rife with procedural errors, the most critical of which was his lawyer failed to file an appeal on his behalf, therefore sealing his fate.   Stinney was arrested a day after the murder, then, 30 days later, tried and sentenced to the electric chair in a procedure lasting a day.  Eighty days after the murder, he was electrocuted, despite a nation-wide campaign to save his life.

Stinney’s lawyer offered virtually no defense at his trial.  While there were exculpating witnesses – namely, Stinney’s relatives who could have offered an alibi –they were not called at trial.  Although the jury system in Clarendon County was unconstitutionally segregated, the lawyer never challenged it.  Stinney allegedly made a confession, but without benefit of counsel or his parents – and to this day, the precise contents of his statement are unknown.  Even if Stinney had been convicted on this slim and unreliable evidence, his case would likely have been reversed by an appellate court, but there was never review. 

On the brief for the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project were Northeastern University School of Law’s Margaret Burnham and Michael Meltsner, and South Carolina lawyer Armand Derfner. 

Press: 

"Northeastern University students uncover forgotten killings from Jim Crow era," The Boston Globe (January 21, 2014)

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