God, Did We Just Kill a Child? (George Stinney)

I want to write about this child, who was the youngest ever executed in America. Well, I don’t have time to really write anything, so I’m going to do a cheap cut-and-paste job.

You’ll get my input on part II. In the meantime, #knowyourhistory

Thanks for visiting my blog.

(The following taken from Wikipedia)

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.[1]

Stinney, of Alcolu, South Carolina, was convicted of murdering two young girls after police said he confessed to the murders. But the question of Stinney’s guilt, the validity of his alleged confession and the judicial process leading to his execution has been criticized as “suspicious at best and a miscarriage of justice at worst”,[2] and as an example of the many injustices African-Americans suffered in courtrooms in the Southern United States in the first half of the 20th Century.[3]

Following his arrest, Stinney’s father was fired from his job and his parents and siblings were given the choice of leaving town or being lynched. The family was forced to flee, leaving the 14-year-old child with no support during his 81-day confinement and trial. His trial, including jury selection, lasted just one day. Stinney’s court-appointed attorney was a tax commissioner preparing to run for office. There was no court challenge to the testimony of the three police officers who claimed that Stinney had confessed, although that was the only evidence presented. There were no written records of a confession. Three witnesses were called for the prosecution: the man who discovered the bodies of the two girls and the two doctors who performed the post mortem. No witnesses were called for the defense. The trial before a completely white jury and audience (African-Americans were not allowed entrance) lasted two and a half hours. The jury took ten minutes to deliberate before it returned with a guilty verdict.

The case

Stinney 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.[4] Alcolu was a small, working class, mill town where whites and blacks were separated by railroad tracks. 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.[5]

Stinney had joined the search party and he related to another that he had talked to the girls on the day of their murder.[6] As he and his sister had been the last persons to admit seeing the girls alive, Stinney was arrested a few hours after their bodies were discovered. Stinney was suspected simply because he mentioned he had seen the girls earlier in the day. [7]

He was interrogated by several white officers in a locked room with no witnesses aside from the officers; within an hour, a deputy announced that Stinney had confessed to the crime. According to the confession, Stinney wanted to “have sex with” 11 year old Betty June Binnicker and could not do so until her companion, Mary Emma Thames, age 8, was removed from the scene; thus he decided to kill Mary Emma. When he went to kill Mary Emma, both girls “fought back” and he thus decided to kill Betty June, as well, with a 14 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.[5]

“Because there were no Miranda rights in 1944, Stinney was questioned without a lawyer and his parents were not allowed into the room. No written confession exists, only a few handwritten notes of a deputy who was present during the interrogation. …Reports said that the officers had offered the boy ice cream for confessing to the crimes.”[8]

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. Millworkers 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.[5]

This was South Carolina in 1944, with a black male defendant, two young white female victims, and an all white, male jury. Stinney never stood a chance.
—Zerlina Maxwell, as quoted by The Grio, NBC news

The trial took place on April 24 at the Clarendon County Courthouse. Jury selection began at 10 a.m., ending just after noon, and the trial commenced at 2:30 p.m. The courthouse was packed with a completely white audience as African-Americans were not allowed entrance. Records indicate 1,000 to 1,500 people crammed the courthouse. Stinney’s court-appointed lawyer was 30-year-old Charles Plowden.[5] “Plowden had political aspirations, and the trial was a high-wire act for him. His dilemma was how to provide enough defense so that he could not be accused of incompetence, but not be so passionate that he would anger the local whites who may one day vote for him. While Plowden was preparing a run for state House that Spring, he was not the only one for which the trial held political implications. As elected officials, Sheriff Gamble, Judge Phillip Henry Stoll, Gov. Olin Dewitt Talmadge Johnston, Coroner Charles Moses Thigpen and State Sen. John Grier Binkins, who were all involved in the case, were also beholden to white voters.”[8]

Plowden did not cross-examine witnesses; his defense was reported to consist solely of the claim that Stinney was too young to be held responsible for the crimes. However the law in South Carolina in 1944 regarded anyone over the age of 14 as an adult. The prosecution merely responded by producing Stinney’s birth certificate which showed him to be fourteen and five months old. Closing arguments concluded at 4:30 p.m., the jury retired just before 5 p.m. and deliberated for 10 minutes, returning a guilty verdict with no recommendation for mercy.[5] Stinney was sentenced to death in the electric chair.[4] When asked about appeals, Plowden replied that there would be no appeal, as the Stinney family had no money to pay for a continuation. When asked about the trial, Lorraine Binnicker Bailey, the sister of Betty June Binnicker, one of the murdered children, stated:[5]

Everybody knew that he done it, even before they had the trial they knew that he done it. But, I don’t think that they had too much of a trial.
—Lorraine Binnicker Bailey, sister of victim Betty June Binnicker, as quoted by Jones, Mark R., South Carolina Killers: Crimes of Passion, pg. 41.

Commenting on the 2011 attempt to file a motion to re-open the case, attorney Steve McKenzie said:

Stinney was a convenient target. But how do you exonerate somebody where there is absolutely no evidence one way or the other? There was only a coerced confession. The confession was never written. It was an oral confession testified to two white officers and told to an all white male jury.
—South Carolina attorney Steve McKenzie, as quoted by The Grio, NBC news

Local churches, the N.A.A.C.P., and unions pleaded with Governor Olin D. Johnston to stop the execution and commute the sentence to life imprisonment, citing Stinney’s age as a mitigating factor. There was substantial controversy about the pending execution, with one citizen writing to Johnston, stating, “Child execution is only for Hitler.” Still, there were supporters of Stinney’s execution; another letter to Johnston stated: “Sure glad to hear of your decision regarding the nigger Stinney.” Johnston did nothing, thereby allowing the execution to proceed.[5]

Execution

The execution of George Stinney was carried out at the South Carolina State Penitentiary in Columbia, on June 16, 1944. At 7:30 p.m., Stinney walked to the execution chamber with a Bible under his arm, which he later used as a booster seat in the electric chair. [5] Standing 5 foot 1 inch (155 cm) tall and weighing just over 90 pounds (40 kg),[4] he was small for his age, which presented difficulties in securing him to the frame holding the electrodes. Nor did the state’s adult-sized face-mask fit him; as he was hit with the first 2,400 V surge of electricity, the mask covering his face slipped off, “revealing his wide-open, tearful eyes and saliva coming from his mouth”…After two more jolts of electricity, the boy was dead.”[8][9] 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.[5]

Latest evidence

South Carolina lawyers Steve McKenzie, Shaun Kent and Ray Chandler are supporting George Frierson in an attempt to obtain a posthumous pardon for Stinney. Frierson is a researcher from Alcolu who came across the case in 2005 while doing black historical research. McKenzie in an interview in 2011 said he has no doubt this case was an injustice. He said that the lack of preserved evidence made clearing Stinney’s name difficult, but he hoped that the affidavits of three new witnesses, one of which could provide an alibi, would be enough to re-open the case.

If we can get the case re-opened, we can go to the judge and say, ‘There wasn’t any reason to convict this child. There was no evidence to present to the jury. There was no transcript. This case needs to be re-opened. This is an injustice that needs to be righted.’ I’m pretty optimistic that if we can get the witnesses we need to come forward, we will be successful in court. We hopefully have a witness that’s going to say — that’s non-family, non-relative witness — who is going to be able to tie all this in and say that they were basically an alibi witness. They were there with Mr. Stinney and this did not occur.
—Steve McKenzie

George Frierson stated in interviews that “…there has been a person that has been named as being the culprit, who is now deceased. And it was said by the family that there was a deathbed confession.” Frierson said that the rumored culprit came from a well-known, prominent white family. A member, or members of that family, had served on the initial coroner’s inquest jury which had recommended that Stinney be prosecuted

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2 Comments

Filed under Message to the Black Man

2 responses to “God, Did We Just Kill a Child? (George Stinney)

  1. This does not surprise me; there are thousands of us blacks who have suffered this type of injustice. Shame on you America for still allowing this to continue. Shame, shame, shame!!!!!!!!!!!

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