|George Junius Stinney, Jr.|
Stinney mug shot
October 21, 1929|
Alcolu, South Carolina
|Died||June 16, 1944
Columbia, South Carolina, United States
|Criminal penalty||Death by electric chair|
In Stinney, an all-white jury quickly convicted him of murdering two pre-teen girls. However, the only evidence against Stinney was the testimony of three white police officers, who testified at trial that Stinney confessed to the murders. Since Stinney's conviction and execution the question of Stinney's guilt, the validity of his alleged confession, and the judicial process leading to his execution have been criticized as "suspicious at best and a miscarriage of justice at worst", and as an example of the many injustices African-Americans suffer in courtrooms in the United States.
Following Stinney's arrest, Stinney's father was fired from his job. Stinney's 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.
The entire Stinney trial, including jury selection, took one day. Stinney's court-appointed defense counsel was a tax commissioner campaigning for election to local political office. Stinney's lawyer did not challenge the three police officers who testified they heard Stinney confess, despite this being the only evidence at trial presented by the prosecution (a confession Stinney denied making). The police did not make written records of Stinney's purported confession.
The Stinney jury was all white. The courtroom gallery too was all white because African-Americans were not allowed in the courtroom audience.
Other than the three police officers, at trial prosecutors called three inconsequential witnesses: the man who discovered the bodies of the two girls, and the two doctors who performed the post mortem. Stinney's counsel did not call any witnesses. Trial presentation lasted two-and-a-half hours. The jury took ten minutes to deliberate, after which it returned with a guilty verdict.
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. 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.
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.  Standing 5 foot 2 inches (157 cm) tall and weighing just over 90 pounds (40 kg), his size (relative to the fully grown prisoners) 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." 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.
On October 25, 2013, Steve McKenzie, Ray Chandler and Matt Burgess of Coffey, Chandler & McKenzie, P.A., filed a Motion for New Trial Pursuant to South Carolina Rule of Criminal Procedure 29(b). They are being joined in their efforts in seeking justice some 70 years later by Ray Lenard Brown of Pleroma Entertainment and James E. Moon, General Counsel for Pleroma.
South Carolina lawyers Steve McKenzie, Ray Chandler and Matt Burgess are supporting George Frierson in an attempt to obtain a posthumous pardon, if not a complete, judicial exoneration, 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.
Brown and Moon have been actively researching the Stinney matter with the assistance and hard work of others over the past two years to seek the clearing of Stinney's name. In that time, they were able to locate several documents that were previously indicated as being missing or destroyed that have proven critical in the efforts to seek a finding that the young man was in fact innocent. In addition, Brown completed a script for a movie about what occurred in 1944 entitled 83 Days which is anticipated to begin shooting in the earlier part of 2014 setting forth the true facts discovered and long hidden about this tragic event.
Books and films about Stinney's case
The case was the basis for the 1988 novel Carolina Skeletons by David Stout, who received for it the 1989 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel. Stout suggests in the novel that Stinney, whom he renames Linus Bragg, was innocent. The plot arises around a fictitious nephew of Stinney/Bragg, who unravels the truth about the case decades later and learns on the way about brighter and darker sides of Stinney's/Bragg's town.
The novel was adapted into a film of the same name (also known as The End of Silence) directed by John Erman, featuring Kenny Blank as Stinney/Linus Bragg. Lou Gossett, Jr. played Stinney's/Bragg's younger brother James, who takes over the role of the nephew in the novel. Blank received for his portrayal of Stinney/Bragg a Young Artist Award nomination for Best Young Actor in a Television Movie in 1993.
A film company has been working on a new project for the George Stinney story and may have some cause to affect the outcome and public sentiment in this case.
- "When Killing a Juvenile Was Routine." Week in Review. New York Times. March 5, 2005.
- Zerlina Maxwell (September 28, 2011). "Was the youngest person to be executed in the U.S. for the murder of two white girls innocent?". The Grio, NBC News. Retrieved June 24, 2012.
- Jeffry Collins (Jan 18, 2010). The Associated Press http://www.goupstate.com/article/20100118/ARTICLES/100119732?tc=ar. Retrieved June 24, 2012. Missing or empty
- "George Stinney, Youngest Executed." Day to Day. SoundPortraits.org. Passaic, NJ. June 30, 2004.
- Jones, Mark R. South Carolina Killers: Crimes of Passion. The History Press, 2007. ISBN 1-59629-395-0. (Chapter Five: "Too Young to Die. The Execution of George Stinney, Jr. (1944).) pp. 38-42.
- Edwards, David (October 3, 2011). "New evidence could clear 14-year-old executed by South Carolina". The Raw Story. Retrieved June 24, 2012.
- James, Joy. States of Confinement: Policing, Detention and Prisons. Macmillan, 2000. ISBN 0-312-21777-3.
- no author (16 May 1989). Edgar Awards for mysteries (p. C18 in the New York edition). New York Times (retrieved 28 February 2010)
- Carolina Skeletons at the Internet Movie Database
- Awards for Carolina Skeletons on the IMDB website (retrieved 28 February 2010)
Review of the movie in the New York Times: John J. O'Connor (30 September 1991). Review/Television. Reopening the wounds of an old murder case (p. C16 of the New York edition). New York Times (retrieved 28 February 2010)