CHARLESTON, S.C. — Attorneys are investigating the possibility of filing a civil-rights lawsuit in the case of a black teenager electrocuted more than 70 years ago for the killings of two young white girls in a segregated South Carolina mill town.
George Stinney was 14 when he was arrested, convicted of murder in a one-day trial and executed in 1944. A state judge in 2014 tossed out the conviction, saying a grave injustice had been done.
"It's an awful part of our history and one that we have to tackle," Charleston School of Law President Ed Bell said Friday as he announced that law students will help research the legal grounds for suing over something that happened seven decades ago.
Bell said that the lawyers, law enforcement and court officials who participated in the case have long since died. Their descendants can't be sued and research will determine whether the state or Clarendon County, where the trial was held, can be named as defendants, he said.
"It may be a shallow victory. There may be no money to be collected. But the fact is, we have to figure out a way in our society to take these wrongs and learn from them," he said.
Miller Shealy, an attorney and law professor at the school who helped bring the case to overturn Stinney's conviction, said what happened in Clarendon County all those years ago was happening nationwide.
"It wasn't unique to South Carolina," he said. "This is not Jim Crow stuff. Wisconsin, Idaho, most states, had all-male juries, all-white juries, no women, no minorities on the bench. Women couldn't even go to law school."
Shealy noted that Stinney has two sisters and a brother who lived for decades with the stigma that their brother was a murderer. He said the family at the time had to leave the small town of Alcolu because they were threatened by a mob.