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In 1944, a 14-year-old Teenager Was Executed by Electric Chair, and He Was the Youngest Person Executed in the US in the 20th Century

George Stinney

In modern times, racial inequality is only a topic for essays and debates. But it was not long ago that people killed others and meted out inhuman punishments just because one race was thought to be better than another. One of the most atrocious cases of injustice due to racial difference in the 20th century is George Stinney’s case. In 1944, George Stinney, a 14-year-old African American boy, was accused of murdering two white girls and convicted within 10 minutes by an all-white jury. He was then executed by electric chair. Keep reading this article to find out whether he got justice or not.

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On March 23, 1944, the bodies of two white girls, Betty June Binnicker and Mary Emma Thames, were found in a ditch. George Stinney was arrested on the suspicion of murdering the girls.

Betty-Mary
Image Source: 1,2

George Junius Stinney, Jr. was an African-American boy living in Alcolu, Clarendon County, South Carolina. Alcolu was a small mill town divided into two by railroad tracks. The black residents lived in one part of the town while the white residents lived in the other.

On March 22, 1944, two white girls, 11-year-old Betty June Binnicker and 8-year-old Mary Emma Thames, went out riding on their bicycle looking for flowers. In their way, they passed George Stinney and his sister Katherine and asked them if they knew where to find ‘maypops’, a type of flower.

Later that day, when the girls did not return home, search parties were organized. The next morning bodies of both girls along with a railroad spike were found in a ditch filled with muddy water on the black side of town. Both had suffered severe head wounds. 14-year-old George Stinney along with his 17-year-old brother Johnny were arrested a few hours later on the suspicion of murdering the girls. Later, Johnny was released, but George was held.

After his arrest, George Stinney was interrogated by several white officers. Within an hour, a deputy announced that Stinney had confessed to the crime.

George Stinney
Image Source: www.huffingtonpost.in

After his arrest, George was interrogated by several white officers in a locked room with no other witness aside from the officers. Within an hour, a Clarendon County deputy, H.S. Newman, announced that George Stinney had confessed to the crime. In his handwritten statement, he had stated “I arrested a boy by the name of George Stinney. He then made a confession and told me where to find a piece of iron about 15 inches were he said he put it in a ditch about six feet from the bicycle.”

According to the confession, George Stinney wanted to “have sex with” Betty June Binnicker. But he could not do so until her companion, Mary Emma Thames, remained on the spot. So, he decided to kill Mary Emma. When he went to kill Mary Emma, both girls “fought back”. Thus, he decided to kill both the girls with a 15-inch railroad spike. It was the same railroad spike that was found in the ditch along with the girls’ bodies.

To date, no confession statement signed by Stinney is known to exist.

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The day after interrogation, George Stinney was charged with a first-degree murder. Until his trial, he was kept at a jail in Columbia and wasn’t allowed to see his parents.

George Stinney in Columbia Jail
Image Source: www.nydailynews.com

The day after he was arrested, Stinney was charged with first a first-degree murder based on the confession narrated by the deputy. His father was fired from his job. His family had to immediately vacate the housing provided by his father’s employer.

Due to the risk of a lynching attempt, Stinney was kept in a jail in Columbia, 50 miles away from the town. In the jail, he was questioned alone, without his parents or attorney.

On April 24, the trial took place at Clarendon County Courthouse, and the entire proceeding took only one day. The all-white jury gave a guilty verdict within 10 minutes. Stinney was sentenced to death in the electric chair.

Electric chair
Image Source: 1,2

The trial took place on 24 April at Clarendon County Courthouse. There were more than 1,000 people in the courtroom but no blacks were allowed. At 10 am, the jury selection began, and it ended just after noon. The trial commenced at 2:30 pm. The only evidence against Stinney was the three police officer who testified that Stinney had confessed to the murders. Stinney’s court-appointed defense counsel Charles Plowden did not challenge it. There was no physical evidence that linked Stinney with the murders.

The closing argument concluded at 4:30 pm. The jury retired just before 5 pm, and within 10  minutes, they returned a guilty verdict with no recommendation for mercy. Since the law in South Carolina at that time stated that anyone over the age of 14 is an adult, Stinney was regarded as an adult and was sentenced to death in the electric chair. No appeal was filed as Stinney’s family had no money to pay for a continuation.

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Stinney’s family, local churches, and the N.A.A.C.P. pleaded with Governor to stop the execution, but he did nothing. He was executed on the morning of June 16, 1944.

Electric chair
Note: the image above is not a real image, it’s only for depiction purpose, taken from Carolina Skeletons (1991)

Stinney’s family, local churches, and the N.A.A.C.P. appealed to Governor Olin D. Johnson to stop the execution. But Johnson responded by saying that “It may be interesting for you to know that Stinney killed the smaller girl to rape the larger one. Then, he killed the larger girl and raped her dead body. Twenty minutes later he returned and attempted to rape her again, but her body was too cold. All of this he admitted himself.” Even though the medical examiner’s report supports no such assertions.

In less than three months after the crime, George Stinney was executed at the Central Correctional Institution in Columbia on June 16, 1944. Stinney walked to the execution chamber at 7:30 am with a bible under his arms. Since he was just 5’1″ tall and weighed just over 90 pounds, the law officers faced difficulty in strapping him to the electric chair for adults. Executioners noted that the straps did not fit him, and an electrode was too big for his leg They had to sit him on the bible to fit in the chair properly. George Stinney is the youngest person executed in the US in the 20th century.

The case was reopened in January 2014 and included testimony by Stinney’s siblings. On December 17, 2014, Judge Carmen Mullen vacated Stinney’s conviction.

Stinney Mother
Image Source: www.independent.co.uk

In 2004, a local historian, George Frierson started researching the case. His work gained attention, and eventually, new evidence was gathered. In January 2014, this new evidence was presented in a court hearing. The evidence included in testimony by Stinney’s siblings who claimed that Stinney was with them at the time of the murders.

On December 17, 2014, Judge Carmen Mullen overturned Stinney’s conviction and said that the South Carolina court had failed to grant a fair trial in 1944.

Also see: 18 Offensive Facts that would make you think twice about the world we live in

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