Young boy tried and executed : exonerated 70 years later
compiled from various sources – December 2019
contributions by – Gaynor Kuye
Updates on this case listed at the foot of this item
In June 1944 14-year-old George Stinney Jr (of Alcolu, South Carolina) became the youngest American executed in the 20th century. In the Court case which sealed his fate, it took 10 minutes to convict him by an all-male, all-white jury. George was subjected to hours of interrogation without his parents or an attorney present, and no African-Americans were allowed in the Courthouse. The entire trial, including the jury’s deliberations, lasted less than 3 hours.
It took 70 years after his execution to exonerate him. George was sentenced to the electric chair.
George was arrested in March of 1944 for the murder of two young white girls.
It all started when the two girls, in the racially segregated mill town, set out on a springtime hunt for maypops. They were 11-year-old Betty June Binnicker and her friend, 7-year-old Mary Emma Thames. They strolled past the busy lumber mill and there they spotted two black children ahead; George and his little sister Amie.
It was reported that Betty June and Mary Emma paused near them asking where to find maypops. George and Amie didn’t know. The girls walked on. George and his sister were considered to be the last people to ever see the girls alive.
The two girls were found on March 23, 1944 laid next to each other, badly beaten by a railroad in a watery ditch on the ‘black side’ of the town. There were no signs of a struggle when Dr. Asbury Cecil Bozard examined the bodies, but it was clear they’d met cruel and violent ends. Mary Emma had a jagged, two-inch long cut above her right eyebrow and a hole boring straight through her forehead into her skull. Betty June suffered at least seven blows to the head, so punishing, the doctor noted, the back of her skull was “nothing but a mass of crushed bones.”
Despite there being no evidence that even linked George to the crime, he was arrested for the murders. His sister recalls the moment that her brother was arrested for the murder. She was hiding in the chicken coup when she saw the two black cars pull up, they arrested by George and his older brother. George’s older brother was released a few hours later.
The last thing that Amie ever said to her brother was; “Oh George, are you leaving me? Where you going?’ He told me to find Charles and Katherine and tell them he was taken away’. Amie also described this as the last time she ever saw her brother alive; “I never saw him again until he was in his casket. That is something I will always see in my memories. His face was burned.”
During George’s time in police custody he was denied visitation from his parents. Throughout his interrogation he was not allowed legal representation or his parents to be present. George only saw his parents once after his trial. They contacted NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People) in order to try and stop the death sentence, however, it would be of no avail.
When giving a statement to the media Amie stated; “My mother cried and prayed… In those days, when you are white you were right, when you were black you were wrong.” Being black and poor in this period of American history meant that they simply did not have the resources to fight the authorities or the state.
When the execution date came George was too small for the chair, the straps were too large, the electrode did not fit his legs and the death-mask was also too large for him. He had to sit on books (reportedly Bibles) to fit into the chair and be strapped into the device which was designed for adults. It was reported that during the electrocution the death-mask slipped off his face to reveal his crying eyes before two more charges were given and he was finally pronounced dead.
The total time from his arrest to execution was a mere 83 days.
The initial trial, the evidence – or lack of it – and the speed with which he was convicted seemed to illustrate how a young black boy was railroaded by an all-white justice system.
A re-examination of the Stinney case began in 2004, and several individuals and Northeastern University School of Law sought a judicial review. His conviction was overturned in 2014, 70 years after he was executed when a court ruled that he had not received a fair trial.
Despite the fact that majority of the evidence from the original court case had been ‘lost’ and that majority of the people involved with the case including eye witnesses were dead, George’s original confession as well as the autopsy report were re-examined by professionals. The remaining living brothers and sisters of George also gave testimony for the first time during the new trial.
They stated that they could provide an alibi for George as he was with them during the time of the murders, and said that they did not come forward during the original trial as they feared for their life.
New facts in the case prompted Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen to vacate his conviction – 70 years after George’s execution. The Judge said; “I can think of no greater injustice than the violation of one’s Constitutional rights which has been proven to me in this case.”
The case had haunted the town since it happened, but gathered new interest and attention when historian George Frierson, a local that was also raised in George’s hometown, started studying the case in detail. During that time a former cellmate of George issued a statement saying the boy denied the charges. “I didn’t, didn’t do it.” Wilford Hunter said George told him. “Why would they kill me for something I didn’t do?”
A summary of George Stinney Jr’s case
Wikipedia (date unknown)