George Stinney becomes the youngest person executed in the US (June 16, 1944) - History Key

George Stinney becomes the youngest person executed in the US (June 16, 1944)

An African-American teenager is convicted of murder in less than 10 minutes during a single day trial. The jury was formed totally by white people and found George Junius Stinney Jr. guilty of murdering two white girls. After Stinney was arrested, it was said that he confessed his actions, but there was no record of the confessions. He was executed by electric chair.

A drinking fountain from the mid-20th century labelled "Colored" with a picture of an African-American man drinking
A drinking fountain from the mid-20th century labelled “Colored” with a picture of an African-American man drinking © Russell Lee / Library of Congress/ Image Source: Wikipedia

The right place at the right time?

George Stinney lived in Alcolu, South Carolina with his father, mother and his four brothers. The town was small and the white and black neighborhoods were separated in all the possible ways, just like many other Southern towns of that time. Therefore, the black and white rarely interacted between them.

One day, two little girls, 11-year-old Betty June Binnicker and 8-year-old Mary Emma Thames had disappeared while riding their bicycle. As the girls passed by Stinney’s house, they asked the young boy and one of his sisters if they knew where to find a specific type of flowers. When the girls didn’t return, hundreds of volunteers started searching for them. Unfortunately, the bodies of the two girls were found the next day in a ditch, both with severe head wounds.

Interrogated without the right of an attorney

The same day after the bodies were found, Stinney Jr. was arrested and interrogated by several officers. The interrogation took place in a locked room with no witnesses, except the white officers. After one hour of “interrogations”, a deputy publicly announced that the teenager confessed the murders.

The Interior Decoration of Police Interrogation Rooms
The Interior Decoration of Police Interrogation Rooms © Image Source: Pinterest.com/PORT.hu

Therefore, Stinney Jr. was arrested based only on the so-called “confession”. He became the principal and the only suspect for the crimes. The arresting officer, H. S. Newman stated “I arrested the boy. He made a confession and told me where to find a piece of iron about 15 inches was. He said he put it in a ditch about six feet from the bicycle.” However, the confession wasn’t signed by Stinney and he also wasn’t allowed to see his parents until after his trial and his conviction.

After Stinney’s arrest, his father was fired from his working place, a local sawmill and his entire family had to evacuate the house they lived in. The teenager had absolutely no support during his confinement and trial. He was kept 50 miles away from town, away from his parents. He was questioned alone without an attorney.

George Stinney mugshot
George Stinney mugshot © State of South Carolina/ Image Source: Wikipedia

Trial and Execution

The trial was also full of “abnormal” situations. The entire process, including the jury section took only one day. Not to mention that the jury deliberated for less than 10 minutes. The other strange thing was that Stinney’s defense counsel was a tax commissioner who campaigned for election to local office. The “defense counsel” never challenged the police officers who testified that the teenager confessed the crimes.

A copy of a photo that ran June 8, 1944, in The Columba (S.C.) Record, showing Stinney, center right
A copy of a photo that ran June 8, 1944, in The Columba (S.C.) Record, showing Stinney, center right © Jimmy Price/The Columbia Record/AP

In the courtroom were more than 1,000 people but no black people were allowed. It was certain it was a racial trial. Despite the fact that the only real “evidence” was those declarations of the police officers, Stinney Jr. was found guilty by an all-white jury. The judge sentenced Stinney to death by the electric chair.

On June 16, 1944 at 7:30 PM, the execution took place at the Central Correctional Institution in Columbia. Stinney was smaller than the usual adult prisoners and it was difficult for the officers to secure him to the frame. He was hit by 2,400 V and the mask covering his face slipped off. He was declared dead within four minutes after the first shock.

The electric chair in the Auburn State Prison (1908)
The electric chair in the Auburn State Prison (1908) © Lew Collings / Library of Congress/ jacobinmag.com

Since the murders, Stinney was arrested, convicted and executed in only 83 days with no real evidence. 70 years later, on December 17, 2014, George Stinney Jr. was exonerated of his murder conviction.

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