George Stinney – the youngest person sentenced to the electric chair
George Junius Stinney, Jr. was a 14-year-old African American boy living in Alcolu, Clarendon County, South Carolina. Alcolu was a tiny town divided by the railroad tracks that ran through it. The tracks were an informal border – whites lived on one side and blacks on the other.
On March 22, 1944, two white girls – 11-year-old Betty June Binnicker and 8-year-old Mary Emma Thames – left on bicycles to look for flowers. On the way, they met George Stinney and his sister Aime. The girls asked their siblings if they knew where to pick flowers. That was the last time they were seen. When the girls did not return home for the night, a search operation was organized and their bodies were found. Both victims had their heads smashed. Shortly after the bodies were found, George and his 17-year-old brother Johnny were arrested as suspects in their murders. After some time, Johnny was released, but George was detained for further questioning. During the interrogation, George confessed to the murder. The crime was alleged to have been committed on a sexual basis.
As news of the teenage killer spread through the town, George’s father was fired from his job and the whole family was evicted. They couldn’t stay anyway because they were threatened with lynching. The trial took place on April 24 and lasted only two hours. The jury had no doubt about the defendant’s guilt and returned 10 minutes later with the verdict. George was found guilty, and the jury recommended the most severe penalty. Since South Carolina law at the time considered persons over the age of 14 to be adults, Stinney was sentenced to death. An appeal was not filed because the family did not have the money to pay for legal services.
George’s family tried to publicize the case. They also asked the governor to halt the execution. To no avail. On June 16, 1944, less than three months after the crime, George Stinney was executed in the electric chair. Because Stinney was only 150 centimeters tall and 40 kilos in weight, the chair was too big and the electrode would fall off his head. To seat him properly, a Bible was placed on the seat (other sources cite a telephone book).
Given the evidence gathered, the case seems to be nothing short of a lynching in the majesty of the law. No statement signed by Stinney exists. George was interviewed by several white officers in a locked room without his parents or an attorney present. There is also no witness to the alleged confession other than the police officers. There was not even a single piece of physical evidence to link Stinney to the murders. George’s siblings provided him with an alibi. The public defender’s attorney did not object, even when the police witnesses told conflicting versions of the boy’s alleged confession to the alleged act. No trial transcript was produced. The jury was composed exclusively of white citizens. Blacks were not allowed into court at all. Even the governor was prejudiced, as indicated by his response to the pardon request, in which he wrote back that George had raped an older girl and then tried to repeat the act, but the body was too cold. However, it is unclear where the governor got this information, as the autopsy report indicated that no rape occurred.
Even after all these years, the case still evokes emotions. In 2004, a local historian obtained documents proving the boy’s innocence. On their basis, a new trial was held in 2014, in which the previous one was overturned. Formally George Stinney is now innocent, which unfortunately is little consolation for his family. The family of the victims, on the other hand, is very unhappy with the reversal of the verdict and believes that George is guilty. Besides, they are not the only ones. A former elementary school teacher (African American) stated that George often got into fights and once even injured a schoolmate with a knife. A woman (white) who lived in the neighborhood recalled that George was a local bully and once threatened to kill her and her friend.
Three films have been made about the Stinney case: Carolina Skeletons (1991), 83 Days (2018) and The Current: The Story of George Stinney (2017). There was also an opera production titled simply Stinney in 2015. However, the most famous film based on the infamous killing is The Green Mile, in which a giant with the mind of a child is convicted for the murder of two girls.
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