It’s been almost 70 years since George Junius Stinney Jr. was executed at age 14. He goes down in history as the youngest person ever executed in the United States in the 20th century.
Sinney, accused of murdering two White girls, was tried and convicted back in 1944 with literally no physical evidence against him.
Less than three months after the girls’ deaths, Stinney was escorted to the electric chair at a Columbia, SC penitentiary. His court appointed lawyer never filed an appeal, which could have postponed the execution.
When the switch was flipped, Stinney’s body convulsed, dislodging the oversized mask and exposing his face to about 40 witnesses, including the slain girls’ fathers, according to James Gamble, son of the Clarendon County sheriff at the time. Gamble recalled the execution for The Herald in Rock Hill a decade ago.
Now, attorneys for Stinney’s family are demanding a new trial, saying the boy’s confession was clearly coerced and that Stinney had an alibi, his sister, Amie Ruffner, who claims she was with Stinney when the murders occurred.
Extensive details about the family’s quest to clear Stinney’s name + video below…
The 1991 television movie ‘Carolina Skelatons’ (posted above) was loosely based on the Stinney case. In it, actor Lou Gossett, Jr. stars as an African-american soldier who returns to his rural southern hometown, where years earlier, his brother was executed for the rape and murder of two white girls.
The commando believes his brother to have been innocent is on a mission to clear his family name but there are people in the small town who will stop at nothing to hide the secrets of their past.
Now life imitates art as the family of George Junius Stinney Jr. finds support to do the same thing in ‘real life’.
“We think we have the opportunity here to make a difference and correct a wrong that’s been there for 70 years,” defense attorney Matt Burgess said.
Lawyers on both sides argued in front of a Sumter County, SC judge for two days last January during a hearing to determine whether there will be a new trial on the case.
The defense put up witnesses related to Stinney and even brought in a forensic pathologist to prove that evidence in the case suggest Stinney was innocent. They also set out to prove various violations of due process which may have resulted in the execution of an innocent young boy.
“South Carolina still recognizes George Stinney as a murderer. We felt that something needed to be done about that,” he said.
Defense attorneys also said Stinney’s former cellmate, Wilford Hunter, issued a statement saying Stinney denied committing the crime!
“I didn’t, didn’t do it,’ ” Hunter recalled Stinney telling him. “He said, ‘Why would they kill me for something I didn’t do?’ ”
Ruffner, Stinney’s sister, told CNN that she and Stinney saw Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, 7, the day they died. Stinney and Ruffner were tending to their family’s cow near some railroad tracks close to their home.
“They said, ‘Could you tell us where we could find some maypops?’ ” Ruffner recalled. “We said, ‘No,’ and they went on about their business.”
The girls were found the next day in a water-logged ditch with injuries to their head. Mary had a 2-inch laceration above her right eyebrow and a vertical laceration over her left, according to a 1944 medical examiners’ report.
“Both of these are jagged and deep and there is a hole going straight through the cranial cavity from the one on the forehead. The frontal bone just above the right orbit is also definitely broken,” the report says, adding there were also two bruised, lacerated areas on top of the head that appear to have been caused by a hammer.
“There is a punched out fracture of the skull beneath each of them,” it says.
With Betty, “There were evidences of at least seven blows on the head,” which, like Mary’s injuries, appear to be the product of a “blunt instrument with a small round head about the size of a hammer. Some of these have only cracked the skull while two have punched definite holes in the skull. The back of the skull is nothing but a mass of crushed bones,” the report says.
While the medical examiner noted no signs of sexual assault to Mary’s body, there was some swelling on Betty’s genitalia and a “slight bruise.” Both girls’ hymens were intact, according to the report.
Police would later claim that Stinney confessed that he wanted to have sex with Betty.
A handwritten statement from a law enforcement officer named H.S. Newman said that after finding the girls, “I arrested a boy by the name of George Stinney. He then made a confession and told me where to find a piece of iron about 15 inches long were (sic). He said he put it in a ditch about six feet from the bicycle.”
A few days later, Ruffner told WLTX, police took Stinney and another of her brothers away in handcuffs while their parents were not at home. One brother was released, she said, while Stinney faced police questioning without his parents or a lawyer.
What followed, according to Stinney’s supporters, was a farce of a trial in which Stinney’s defense cross-examined no witnesses and presented no evidence or testimony in his favor.
“(The police) were looking for someone to blame it on, so they used my brother as a scapegoat,” Ruffner said.
In one sign that times have changed, Ernest A. Finney III, solicitor for the Third Circuit Court, is black. Like the judge, he conceded that Stinney did not get fair treatment but argued against a new trial, the Times said.
“Back in 1944, we should have known better, but we didn’t,” Finney said. “The fact of the matter is, it happened, and it occurred because of a legal system of justice that was in place.”
After the hearing ended, Judge Mullen asked lawyers to submit additional briefs. She did not say when she expects to rule.
While Mullen said the hearing is to determine if Stinney received a fair trial, one legal issue is whether there is any recourse when a defendant is dead.
Joe McCullough, a defense lawyer who became involved in the case on behalf of the NAACP, told WLTX-TV in Columbia the “court of public opinion” may be the most effective venue.
“I don’t think there is an effective way to clear his name. You can’t try someone under these circumstances in their absence,” he said. (source)