Youngest Person Executed in the United States in the 20th Century was a 14yr old Boy

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    George Junius Stinney, Jr.,

    [b. 1929 - d. 1944]

    In a South Carolina prison more than sixty-six years ago, guards walked a 14-year-old boy, bible tucked under his arm, to the electric chair. At 5' 1" and 95 pounds, the straps didn’t fit, and an electrode was too big for his leg.

    The switch was pulled and the adult sized death mask fell from George Stinney’s face. Tears streamed from his eyes. Witnesses recoiled in horror as they watched the youngest person executed in the United States in the past century die.

    Now, a community activist is fighting to clear Stinney’s name, saying the young boy couldn’t have killed two girls. George Frierson, a school board member and textile inspector, believes Stinney’s confession was coerced, and that his execution was just another injustice blacks suffered in Southern courtrooms in the first half of the 1900s.

    In a couple of cases like Stinney’s, petitions are being made before parole boards and courts are being asked to overturn decisions made when society’s thumb was weighing the scales of justice against blacks. These requests are buoyed for the first time in generations by money, college degrees and sometimes clout.

    “I hope we see more cases like this because it help brings a sense of closure. It’s symbolic,” said Howard University law professor Frank Wu. “It’s not just important for the individuals and their families. It’s important for the entire community. Not just for African Americans, but for whites and for our democracy as a whole. What these cases show is that it is possible to achieve justice.”

    Some have already achieved justice. Earlier this year, syndicated radio host Tom Joyner successfully won a posthumous pardon for two great uncles who were executed in South Carolina.

    A few years ago Lena Baker, a black Georgia maid sent to the electric chair for killing a white man, received a pardon after her family pointed out she likely killed the man because he was holding her against her will.

    In the Stinney case, supporters want the state to admit that officials executed the wrong person in June 1944.

    Stinney was accused of killing two white girls, 11 year old Betty June Binnicker and 8 year old
    Mary Emma Thames, by beating them with a railroad spike then dragging their bodies to a ditch near Acolu, about five miles from Manning in central South Carolina. The girls were found a day after they disappeared following a massive manhunt. Stinney was arrested a few hours later, white men in suits taking him away. Because of the risk of a lynching, Stinney was kept at a jail 50 miles away in Columbia.

    Stinney’s father, who had helped look for the girls, was fired immediately and ordered to leave his home and the sawmill where he worked. His family was told to leave town prior to the trial to avoid further retribution. An atmosphere of lynch mob hysteria hung over the courthouse. Without family visits, the 14 year old had to endure the trial and death alone.

    Frierson hasn’t been able to get the case out of his head since, carrying around a thick binder of old newspaper stories and documents, including an account from an execution witness.

    The sheriff at the time said Stinney admitted to the killings, but there is only his word — no written record of the confession has been found. A lawyer helping Frierson with the case figures threats of mob violence and not being able to see his parents rattled the seventh- grader.

    Attorney Steve McKenzie said he has even heard one account that says detectives offered the boy ice cream once they were done.

    “You’ve got to know he was going to say whatever they wanted him to say,” McKenzie said.

    The court appointed Stinney an attorney — a tax commissioner preparing for a Statehouse run. In all, the trial — from jury selection to a sentence of death — lasted one day. Records indicate 1,000 people crammed the courthouse. Blacks weren’t allowed inside.

    The defense called no witnesses and never filed an appeal. No one challenged the sheriff’s recollection of the confession.

    “As an attorney, it just kind of haunted me, just the way the judicial system worked to this boy’s disadvantage or disfavor. It did not protect him,” said McKenzie, who is preparing court papers to ask a judge to reopen the case.

    Stinney’s official court record contains less than two dozen pages, several of them arrest warrants. There is no transcript of the trial.

    The lack of records, while not unusual, makes it harder for people trying to get these old convictions overturned, Wu said.

    But these old cases also can have a common thread.

    “Some of these cases are so egregious, so extreme that when you look at it, the prosecution really has no case either,” Wu said. “It’s apparent from what you can see that someone was railroaded.”

    And sometimes, police under pressure by frightened citizens jumped to conclusions rather than conducting a thorough investigation, Wu said.

    Bluffton Today - 'Crusaders look to right Jim Crow justice wrongs' by Jeffrey Collins
    Photo: South Carolina Department of Archives and History

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    View 20 more comments

    1. Junal Gerlach 31 months ago | reply

      So sad and always to quick to judge....

    2. *alesandra~sweet* [deleted] 31 months ago | reply

      This is ridicilous, a 14 year old convicted and sentenced to death, and without a shred of credible proof. Where were was America a 100 years ago, before the invention of common sense and rationality?!!

    3. MsMouse1 31 months ago | reply

      These comments were made months ago, so it is probably silly to be posting here, but what the hay, no one has to read them but I feel compelled to make them. I have certainly noticed that no one is racist. None exist. Ok, you have convinced me. So will you now explained to me why Troy Davis was executed in the face of not just reasonable doubt, but a large amount of glaring doubt. Please explain to me why I now have to live my life in fear everyday for the safety of my dearest friend because of non-racist cops non racially profiling him, and worse. There were witnesses around these incidents, I shudder to think what could have happened if he had been alone. In the face of the disrespect and threats that he was subjected to. This man is a valuable and valued member of our community. What is done to him and any other person in our community affects all of us. This incident alone has changed my life dramatically.
      He has suffered this throughout his whole life, this is the first time I have witnessed it and the effect it is having on him. It has caused me to live in fear.
      I don't like living my life in fear people! I don't like it at all and my friend and so many others have had to live their whole lives in fear. Please don't talk to me about the Civil War. I want to know why this is acceptable to y'all. Tell me why this is tolerated in a country that is neither third world nor run by a despotic dictator. Make me understand please.

    4. sabina24de 31 months ago | reply

      This is so sad ....

    5. craz3tina 31 months ago | reply

      that is terrible!

    6. MaGurutze07 30 months ago | reply

      EVIL!!!!!! RACISTS!!!!!!! It's almost unbelievable that people can be so stupid to kill a child like that...
      I'll pray to him as I'm sure he is now in Heaven enjoying God's Glory that he looks out for children in the world who are targeted for destruction such as it is with Planned Parenthood that targets minority groups to kill the children of African-Americans and Latin-Americans...they have an evil agenda to destroy God's children.
      Most people in jail and in prisons don't belong there...it's a racist world!
      Most mass murders are white males and yet they insist on placing Mexicans in jails for stupid reasons like not carrying ids, etc...
      Racism needs to stop!

    7. chocolate185 30 months ago | reply

      God is in control you get away with crime while on earth but when you reach Heaven you will see that GOD IS A JUST GOD HE SEE AND HEAR IT ALL.

    8. MissPuddin 30 months ago | reply

      loganxart - you are a misinformed moron.

    9. mreed5 30 months ago | reply

      What alot of people don't know is the United State has 2000 kids on Death Row and the rest of the world combined has only 12

    10. ~Kicha~ 28 months ago | reply

      Grabs you by the heart and doesn't let go.

    11. wldchild 22 months ago | reply

      I am 58 year old and this is the 1st time that I ever heard of this terrible injustice, I'm so upset about this my fucking head , let me calm down because I am hurting inside for this young african bro. I just don't know what to say or do, but i know jesus was standing right there with George J. stinney.

    12. Zoemsneedtoknow 18 months ago | reply

      It is a shame but if you look at todays times it is still going On. No one get a chance now even with DNA it is still kill the Black Man.. Please wake up American and Keep your children close...

    13. mom2blu 7 months ago | reply

      Small typo, the town is Alcolu.

    14. missyrepresent 6 months ago | reply

      Those girls were only 8 and 11 and according to the brief mention in the article they suffered a terrible death as well. Even if they pardon this boy that doesn't answer the question of who killed them. Do they have any idea who really did kill them? And did they kill again. Someone capable of a murder this violent probably has murdered in the past and would kill again if they thought they had gotten off. Possibly a serial killer who didn't live in the area.

    15. exocetseye 5 months ago | reply

      This story is back in the news. The Stinney family is seeking to clear his name.

    16. JustNicePhotos 5 months ago | reply

      Absolutely tragic, I remember hearing this story some time ago and it broke my heart - and yes who was responsible for the murders ?!!! I hope that the Stinney family are able to clear his name, he can then RIP and the family can close this horrible chapter in their personal history book of life.

    17. brenda.baxter59 2 months ago | reply

      pain! Pain! and more Pain!. My eyes are wet with tears of compassion for George. I beleive God was with him all the time. As a mother and grandmother, I can only see my son's face when I look at George. God be the Golry.

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