By Vicky Smith
A teenage boy convicted of murdering two young girls has been exonerated – 70 years after he was executed for the crime.
George Stinney Jr was just 14 when he was sentenced to death over the killing of two white girls, aged 11 and seven.
He became the youngest person in the 20th Century to be executed in the US.
But 70 years on a US judge in South Carolina has thrown out the black teen’s conviction on the basis he was wronged by the justice system.
The ruling has been welcomed by Stinney Jr’s family and civil rights activists who campaigned for years. However it has come too late for the teen, who would be 84 today.
When he was executed in 1944, Stinney was so short he had to sit on a phone book so he would fit on the electric chair and one of the electrodes was too big for his leg.
The young lad was living with his family in Alcolu, South Carolina, when he was accused of murdering Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, seven, on March 23, 1944.
The girls had vanished after going on a bike ride together and their bodies were found the next morning. Both of them had been violently beaten to death with a railroad spike.
Witnesses claimed to see Stinney Jr picking flowers with the young victims before they were found dead.
He admitted to the crime during interrogation by police after being separated from his parents.
He was found guilty by an all-male, all-white jury who deliberated for less than 10 minutes after a trial that lasted less than a day. He was later denied appeal.
On Wednesday Judge Carmen Mullins based her ruling on how the justice system treated the boy and said he had not been properly defended by his attorney.
She also pointed out his confession to police was likely coerced and there was no physical evidence linking him to the double murder.
She said: “From time to time we are called to look back to examine our still-recent history and correct injustice where possible.
“I can think of no greater injustice than a violation of one’s constitutional rights, which has been proven to me in this case by a preponderance of the evidence standard.”
She also labelled executing a 14-year-old boy as cruel and unusual punishment.
One of Stinney Jr’s two sisters Amie Ruffner, 78, said: “They took my brother away and I never saw my mother laugh again.”
Appealing his innocence, Stinney Jr’s brother testified he had spent the day with the teenager of the day the girls were murdered.