A miscarriage of justice took place in Alcolu, SC in March of 1944. A 14-year-old boy, George Stinney, Jr. was arrested, after two young white girls were discovered brutally murdered in a watery ditch. At the time of George’s arrest, he was home with his older brother and younger sister. George and his older brother Johnnie were arrested and taken away, even though their parents weren’t home. George and his little sister were reported to be the last people to see the girls alive. According to George’s sister, Amie Ruffner, “[The police] were looking for someone to blame it on, so they used my brother as a scapegoat.”
On June 16, 1944, George Stinney was executed! He became the youngest person in modern times to be put to death. After 70 years, Mr. Stinney was exonerated of the double murders. This horrendous moment from the Jim Crow South has tormented civil rights advocates for years.
On the day of his arrest, George was interrogated in a small room by himself, without his parents or an attorney present. The police alleged that George confessed to the killings because he wanted to have sex with one of the girls.
George Stinney was rushed to trial. With his trial taking only two hours to complete, and a jury deliberating for just 10-minutes, George was convicted of murder on April 24, 1944. He was sentenced to die by electrocution and at the time, 14 was the age of criminal responsibility. Mr. Stinney was represented by a lawyer who was a local political figure and the lawyer made the decision not to appeal the conviction.
There was practically no evidence presented and it showed how a young black child was railroaded by an all-white justice system. Up to the point where he was recently exonerated, no written record of a confession was ever found. With new facts in the case coming to light, Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen vacated George’s conviction; 70 years after he was executed. The judge remarked, “I can think of no greater injustice than the violation of one’s Constitutional rights which has been proven to me in this case.”
A former cellmate of George’s at the time, issued a statement saying the boy denied the charges. “I didn’t, didn’t do it,’ ” Wilford Hunter said Stinney told him. “He said, ‘Why would they kill me for something I didn’t do?” The case has haunted the town of Alcolu since 1944.
The Stinney family claimed that George’s confession was coerced and that he had an alibi, his sister. His sister said she was with him at the alleged time of the crime. They were watching their family’s cow graze near the railroad tracks by their house when the two girls rode over on their bicycles and asked them a question. George was accused of murdering the girls as they picked wildflowers.
The Stinney family fled their home according to George’s brother, Charles, because “George’s conviction and execution was something my family believed could happen to any of us in the family. Therefore, we made a decision for the safety of the family to leave it be,” Charles Stinney wrote in his sworn statement.
George Stinney was sent to the electric chair a mere 84 days after the girls’ deaths! Today, a death sentence is almost automatically appealed and it could take years, even decades, before an execution. In which time, new evidence could be discovered as in the case of George Stinney.
George Stinney wasn’t even 5 feet tall and weighed less than 100 pounds. The straps on the electric chair couldn’t contain his frail body. It was reported that George had to sit on books to reach the headpiece of the electric chair.
The Stinney family continued to demanded a new trial. In January of 2014, a judge agreed to hear new testimony and arguments in the case. Judge Mullen heard sworn testimony from George’s brothers and sisters, a witness from the search party that discovered the bodies and experts who challenged his confession. A child psychiatrist testified that George’s confession should have never been trusted. The psychiatrist, Amanda Sales, stated that, “It is my professional opinion, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that the confession given by George Stinney Jr. on or about March 24, 1944, is best characterized as a coerced, compliant, false confession. It is not reliable.”
The Stinney family maintained that they never wanted a pardon because “a pardon is forgiving someone for something they did,” said Norma Robinson, George Stinney’s niece. “That wasn’t an option for my mother, my aunt or my uncle. We weren’t asking forgiveness.” They wanted and received a full exoneration of George Stinney’s name. In December of 2014, 70 years after George was executed, Judge Carmen Mullen vacated the conviction against Stinney.