The African American George Stinney Jr. was just 14 when he was convicted of murder and executed in South Carolina in 1944. Exactly seventy years later, he was acquitted. This is his story.
A Forgotten Case Surfaced Thanks To A Viral Facebook Post
This forgotten case has emerged, as is often the case today, thanks to a viral Facebook post last year. The author of the publication is Chiadikaobi Atansi.
Twitter user Myaa Shakur shared a shortened version of this text. Along with the post, she also shared George Stinney's police photo and several others from a film based on his life.
The latter is from the 1991 television film Carolina Skeletons, based on the novel of the same name by David Stout. Although the main character in the movie is called Linus Bragg, it is about Stinney.
"We will never forget and we will never FORGIVE! George Stinney Jr., of African descent, was the youngest person executed in the 20th century in the United States. This young black man was only 14 when he was executed in an electric chair. 70 years later his innocence has been officially recognized by South Carolina judges. "
Unjustly Convicted Of The Murder Of Two White Girls
From his trial to the execution room, the boy had the Bible in his hands all the time while claiming his innocence. George Stinney was unjustly accused of killing two white girls (Betty, 11 and Mary, 7), whose bodies were found nearby the house where the boy and his parents lived. At that time, all members of the jury were white. The trial lasted two hours and 30 minutes, and the jury decided on the verdict after only 10 minutes.
The boy's parents were threatened and ordered to leave the city. It prevented them from participating in the trial. Before the trial, George Stinney spent 81 days in detention without seeing his parents for the last time. He was alone in his prison cell, 80 kilometers from his hometown.
Young George Stinney was questioned alone, without a parent or lawyer.
The voltage at George's execution was 5380 volts. We'll let you imagine what such an electric shock can do to a child's head. We should never forget!
The Revelation Is Largely True
According to Snopes, this story is mainly true, with one major mistake. Judge Carmen Tevis Mullen's 2014 trial in South Carolina did not mean the court officially "pleaded not guilty." In contrast, they overturned the conviction because the trial and the verdict violated his constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial.
The 2014 ruling also cites facts about this gruesome case. It all started when on March 23, 1944, in Alcol, South Carolina/ Two girls, Betty June Binnicker (11) and Mary Emma Thames (7), went missing. Both girls were white.
Their bodies were found in a ditch the following morning. The skulls of both were broken and on one of them was her bicycle without a front wheel. George Stinney Jr. was detained only a few hours later, and within hours he admitted to killing them.
The Boy's Lawyer Did Not Call Witnesses For Trial
Stinney's trial started a month after he was arrested on April 24. All jury members were indeed white, and the trial ended the same day. Although police have testified that George Stinney admitted to committing this horrific crime, there is no written confession in the court records. He was sentenced to death in an electric chair.
Due to the short duration of the trial, the judge concluded that the defendant did not call many or any witnesses. It presumably did not examine the prosecution witnesses. So, the execution of the teen took place on June 16, 1944.
Judge Mullen overturned the verdict on the grounds that his constitutional rights had been violated. The confession was probably forced, the lawyer did nothing to defend him in court, racial prejudice was not taken into account in selecting the jury, and the execution of the 14-year-old itself was a "cruel and unusual punishment."
However, that does not mean that this judge found George Stinney innocent. It is still possible that he was the killer, no matter how hard it may be to believe that a 14-year-old would have done such a thing. Her verdict was what is called Coram Nobis in legal terminology. It refers to a case in which evidence of an earlier ruling is presented to the court, making that verdict invalid.
Coram Nobis - Annulment Of An Unjust Judgment
In similar cases, a retrial is usually held. When this is no longer possible, the Coram Nobis procedure is resorted to. This happened in this case, at the request of the surviving relatives of the executed boy. The state authorities disputed their request, claiming that too much time had passed.
Stinney's innocence was supported by the testimony of his surviving family members, who presented an alibi for him at the time of the murder. They were all together. But George Stinney's lawyer didn't talk to any of his family - as if he didn't care about his defense at all.
Moreover, according to one theory, the real killer may have been the son of a prominent white man, a local sawmill owner. The bodies of the murdered girls were found right on his land, and family lawyers were speculating that the girls may have been killed with a steel hook that connects the wagons that transported the wood.
The Youngest Executed American Ever
Is George Stinney the youngest person executed in the US? Apparently, it is. Black fourteen-year-old Fortune Ferguson was sentenced to death in 1923 for raping an eight-year-old white girl. His execution was postponed for four years. In addition, according to some media reports, he was actually 17 or even 22 years old.
It is also true that George Stinney's family had to flee the city when he was arrested, fearing that angry fellow citizens would lynch them. According to available data, Stinney was killed with three electric shocks totaling 4,300 volts.
Tied to an electric chair the size of an adult, he was so small that the state electrician tried to adjust the electrode on his right leg. A mask was too big and fell after the first shock. He was so small, only 150 centimeters tall, that the executors had placed his Bible on the electric chair below him, from which he did not separate until his last breath.