This week on History, we share the controversial story of a the youngest person ever executed in the history of the United States.
George Junius Stinney Jr. (October 21, 1929 – June 16, 1944) was, at age 14, the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century. The question of Stinney’s guilt and the judicial process leading to his execution remain controversial. Stinney, who was black, was arrested on suspicion of murdering two white girls, Betty June Binnicker, age 11, and Mary Emma Thames, age 8, in Alcolu, located in Clarendon County, South Carolina, on March 23, 1944.
The girls had disappeared while out riding their bicycles looking for flowers. As they passed the Stinney property, they asked young George Stinney and his sister, Katherine , if they knew where to find “maypops”, a type of flower.When the girls did not return, search parties were organized, with hundreds of volunteers.
The bodies of the girls were found the next morning in a ditch filled with muddy water. Both had suffered severe head wounds. Stinney was arrested a few hours later and was interrogated by several white officers in a locked room with no witnesses aside from the officers; because there were no Miranda rights in 1944. Within an hour, a deputy announced that Stinney had confessed to the crime.
No written confession exists, only a few handwritten notes a deputy who was present during the interrogation. Reports said that the officers had offered the boy ice cream for confessing to the crimes. According to the confession, Stinney (90 lbs, 5’1″) wanted to “have sex with ” Betty and could not do so until her companion, Mary was removed from the scene; thus he decided to kill Mary Emma. When he went to kill Mary, both girls “fought back” and he decided to kill Betty, as well, with a 15 inch railroad spike that was found in the same ditch a distance from the bodies. According to the accounts of deputies, Stinney apparently had been successful in killing both at once, causing major blunt trauma to their heads, shattering the skulls of each into at least 4-5 pieces. The next day, Stinney was charged with first-degree murder.
Jones describes the town’s mood as grief, transformed in the span of a few hours into seething anger, with the murders raising racially and politically charged tension. Townsmen threatened to storm the local jail to lynch Stinney, but prior to this, he had been removed to Charleston by law enforcement.
Stinney’s father was fired from his job at the local lumber mill and the Stinney family left town during the night in fear for their lives.
The trial took place on April 24 at the Clarendon County Courthouse. Stinney’s court appointed lawyer was 30-year-old Charles Plowden, who had political aspirations. Plowden did not cross-examine witnesses; his defense was reported to consist of the claim that Stinney was too young to be held responsible for the crimes. However the law in South Carolina at the time regarded anyone over the age of 14 as an adult.
The jury returned a guilty verdict and Stinney was sentenced to death in the electric chair. When asked about appeals, Plowden replied that there would be no appeal, as the Stinney family had no money to pay for a continuation.
The execution was carried out at the South Carolina State Penitentiary in Columbia, South Carolina, on June 16, 1944. At 7:30 p.m., Stinney walked to the execution chamber with a Bible under his arm. Standing 5’1″ and weighing just over 90 pounds, he was small for his age, which presented difficulties in securing him to the frame holding the electrodes. Neither did the state’s adult-sized face-mask fit Stinney; his convulsing exposed his face to witnesses as the mask slipped free, “revealing his wide-open, tearful eyes and saliva coming from his mouth “. After two more jolts of electricity, the boy was dead. Stinney was declared dead within four minutes of the initial electrocution. From the time of the murders until
Stinney’s execution, eighty one days had passed.
A sad way to end a beautiful life.