Family seeks new trial for executed 14-year old

George Stinney 1Ten days after the Allies landed at Normandy, a 14-year-old black youth was executed for the murder of an 11-year-old white girl.

At just 5-foot-1 and 90 pounds, George Stinney is said to have had to use the Bible he carried to the execution chamber at the South Carolina State Penitentiary in Columbia, SC, as a booster seat when he was positioned in the electric chair on the evening of June 16, 1944.

Stinney had been found guilty by an all-white jury in the death of Betty June Binnicker, who, along with Mary Emma Thames, 7, had been killed in Clarendon County, SC. Both had been beaten with a railroad spike and left in a ditch in a rural part of the county.

The girls were killed in late March 1944; Stinney was tried and convicted of Binnicker’s death a month later. He would have the ignominious fate of being the youngest individual executed in the US in the 20th century.

Next month, however, attorneys representing relatives of Stinney will take the first step in what they hope will result in a new trial for George Stinney, according to The State newspaper.

At a hearing in Sumter, SC, Stinney family attorney Steven McKenzie is expected to present witnesses who will give evidence that he hopes will convince the judge to grant a new trial.

“In a legal brief, McKenzie has said his new evidence includes affidavits by surviving Stinney siblings who didn’t testify at his 1944 trial,” according to The State.

Representatives from 3rd Circuit Solicitor Chip Finney’s office will be allowed to cross-examine those witnesses.

“I’m not opposed to the motion; I’m not in favor of the motion,” Finney told the publication last week. “My job is to just help get to the truth.”

The truth, whatever it is, isn’t likely to be pretty.

Just two days after the bodies of the girls were found, Stinney was charged in their deaths. He went on trial for Binnicker’s death less than a month later, though he was never tried in Thames’ death.

Following Stinney’s arrest, his father was fired from his job and his parents and siblings were given the option of leaving town or being lynched. The family fled, leaving the youngster with no support during his 81-day confinement and trial.

The trial, including jury selection, lasted less than a day, and the jury deliberated just 10 minutes before convicting Stinney of first-degree murder.

The only evidence against Stinney was the testimony of three white police officers, who testified at trial that Stinney confessed to the murders.

Stinney’s lawyer did not challenge the officers who testified that they heard Stinney confess, despite the fact that they did not make written records of the purported confession.

In addition, Stinney’s lawyer failed to file for an appeal, which would have delayed the execution, according to The State.

The hearing will be unusual for other reasons, as well, according to the publication:

  • Evidence such as the alleged murder weapon, a railroad spike, is non-existent;
  • No transcript of the trial proceedings has been located; and
  • Stinney’s purported confession cannot be found.

“McKenzie’s motion also cites rampant rumors that surround the case to this day, including an allegation that Stinney was offered ice cream to confess and another supposed ‘deathbed confession’ made by a white man who claimed he killed the two girls,” according to the publication.

No matter what the outcome of next month’s hearing, there’s little doubt that Stinney’s trial was, as it has been characterized, “suspicious at best and a miscarriage of justice at worst.”

(Top: George Stinney after his arrest in 1944.)

8 thoughts on “Family seeks new trial for executed 14-year old

  1. Wow. No defence and less than a day to decide he was guilty. I can only imagine how scared that boy was when even his family couldn’t be there for him.

    • Indeed, a very sad chapter in South Carolina’s history. I’d like to imagine that the attorney that provided the young man’s “counsel” lived to regret his inept effort at defense, but I somehow doubt it bothered him much.

  2. In my opinion the governor (Olin Johnston) who denied clemency to George Stinney should have been killed.

    • Yes, it’s really hard to see a downside to a governor commuting the death sentence of a 14-year old, even a black 14-year old in the Jim Crow South. Not exactly what your would call a Profile in Courage moment.

  3. Cotton Boll,
    It seems extremely strange to me. I would have had a lot of questions about this, like motive, or why this particular kid was targeted. But then I don’t believe in capital punishment or war. Man’s blood lust is unfathomable.

    • Obviously, 1940s rural South Carolina was a very different time from today. Even those who are in favor of the death penalty can, I would imagine, agree that a 14-year old shouldn’t be executed, particularly when he hasn’t received proper representation.

      My thought after thinking about this case over the years is: who did kill those two girls? This would appear to be the work of a predator. As such, it would seem unlikely that the individual would have stopped after killing the pair. Of course, the perpetrator may have been arrested for another crime and been unable to kill others, he may have moved elsewhere and continued his crimes with no one able to link the different crimes or he may have died, ending his spree.

      I really don’t know if there was any evidence actually linking the 14-year old to the crime, or exonerating him. Apparently, evidence went missing over the years. No matter, it was a travesty. Everyone is guaranteed legitimate representation by the Constitution.

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