1915: 20 Hunchakian gallows 1842: Charles Stoddart and Arthur Conolly, Great Game diplomats

1944: George Stinney, Jr., age 14

June 16th, 2012 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

On this date in 1944, a five-foot-one-inch, ninety-pound prisoner walked into the death chamber of the Central Correctional Institute in Columbia, South Carolina and was executed in the electric chair.

He was so small that the guards had trouble strapping him into the chair and fitting the electrodes on. When the first jolt of electricity hit him, the mask fell off his face, revealing an expression of horror.

His name was George Junius Stinney Jr., and at fourteen years, seven months and twenty-six days, he was the youngest person to be legally executed in the U.S. in the 20th century. In spite of this startling distinction, his death went practically unnoticed in the press.

Stinney, a black youth from a poor family in the town of Alcolu, was condemned for the double murder of two white girls he knew: Betty June Binnicker, age 11, and Mary Emma Thames, age 8. The girls had gone out on their bicycles on March 23, 1944, and along the way they saw Stinney and his sister and asked where to look for flowers. The Stinneys said they didn’t know.

The next day, the two girls’ bodies were found in a muddy, water-filled ditch. They had both sustained severe head injuries; their skulls were shattered. A fifteen-inch railroad spike was found nearby.

A few hours later, Stinney was arrested and locked in a room with several police officers and no one else. According to later testimony, at first he claimed the girls had suddenly attacked him and he hit them with the railroad spike in self-defense. However, a short time later he gave a second statement confessing to premeditated murder.

Stinney allegedly stated he had wanted to have sex with Betty June, but he couldn’t do so until the younger girl was out of the way, so he killed Mary Emma with the railroad spike. Betty June ran away, but Stinney caught up with her. When she resisted his sexual advances, he killed her too and dragged both bodies into the ditch. That’s the story.

When the townspeople found out that Stinney had confessed and would be charged with murder, a lynch mob formed outside the jail. Authorities took the boy to another jail in Columbia, fifty miles away, for his own safety; fearing for their own lives, Stinney’s family also fled town.

The trial took place on April 24, one month and one day after the murders, beginning at 2:30 p.m. Virtually the only evidence against Stinney was the testimony of the sheriff who heard the confession: there was no written record of the confession. Stinney’s defense attorney, who planned to run for state office, did not contest the confession and called no witnesses, but only claimed his client was too young to be held responsible for the murders. However, under South Carolina law at the time, a fourteen-year-old was legally an adult.

The jury was sent out at 5:00 p.m. and returned with a guilty verdict just ten minutes later.

There was no appeal.

Some local churches and the NAACP asked the governor for a commutation, citing Stinney’s age — but the governor allowed the execution to proceed. The entire drama from homicides to execution spanned less than 90 days.

One of Betty June Binnicker’s sisters reflected fifty years later, “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.”

More than sixty-five years after Stinney died, a community activist called for the case to be reopened, suggesting Stinney may have have been innocent. The evidence against him was absurdly slight. He had no history of violent behavior, and it seems unlikely that this short, slender boy would be strong enough to overpower two girls and beat them to death. Stinney’s brother, now a pastor in Brooklyn, said the family always believed in his innocence. Both his brother and his sister recalled that he had been a smart boy, a good student and artistic, and their family had been a close and loving one.

As one article noted, “Stinney’s trial and subsequent execution were suspicious at best and a miscarriage of justice at worst … 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.”


Stinney-inspired scene from the TV movie Carolina Skeletons.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,Guest Writers,History,Milestones,Murder,Other Voices,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Sex,South Carolina,USA,Wrongful Executions

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17 thoughts on “1944: George Stinney, Jr., age 14”

  1. Fiz says:

    This whole case stinks!

  2. SHERRY says:

    SAD BUT AMERICAN. WHAT MAKES IT SO BAD IS THAT THE ONE THAT PUT THAT BOY TO DEATH IS MORE THEN LIKELY THE ONES THAT KILLED THE LITTLE GIRLS THAT IS HOW AMERICAN HAVE GOTTEN TO BE IN THIS LAND OF OURS.

  3. SNOW says:

    That’s a crime, and terror;
    A terroristic threat is a crime generally involving a threat to commit violence communicated with the intent to terrorize another, to cause evacuation of a building, or to cause serious public inconvenience, in reckless disregard of the risk of causing such terror or inconvenience. It may mean an offense against property or involving danger to another person that may include but is not limited to recklessly endangering another person, harassment, stalking, ethnic intimidation, and criminal mischief.
    He was just a child.

  4. Back in the day,we had no rights what so ever.America was founded by violence and it’s been getting worse ever since.Until that day of the second coming,woe unto us!

  5. edi says:

    as bad as emmett till. oh what a woeful, shameful story. no justice for ANY of the kids. NONE of them.

  6. Sylence says:

    Niglet was guilty of something. All of them are.

  7. Laquinton Wagner says:

    We have NOT come far since 1944! We still charge young children as adults, send them to prison for life, or let them live in society with unbearable criminal records that they get horrifically discriminated against by. Without the ability to get a job to gain the experience EVERY job requires these days, how do we expect a new adult to start life, put food in their mouths, provide shelter for themselves? Perhaps its more humane to execute them….?

  8. Dakota Jackson says:

    This is horrible that a child was condemned to death with no evidence, just the eye witness testimony of two white cops. I believe that if the situation had been reversed at that point in time and the victims had been black and the suspect white they would have thrown him a parade. Where’s the justice for not only the girls but the boy as well. No written confession and not a shred of evidence. The sad thing is his lawyer could have stayed the execution for a year with a letter of appeal but he didn’t. I hope with all my heart that they find justice for all the kids in this case. So that maybe they could all rest in peace.

  9. Samantha says:

    Look what happen newton CT one of their own turn around and killed 20 children between the age of 6 and 7

  10. Ray Brown says:

    George Stinney was executed for a crime he didn’t commit. He was only 14 years old. We are trying to expose the truth and right a wrong. Please stand with me, by offering your support. You can do this three ways:

    Sign our petition:
    http://www.causes.com/causes/809046-redeem-george-stinney-jr-now

    Like our Facebook page:
    http://www.facebook.com/RedeemGeorgeStinneyJunior

    And make a contribution:
    http://www.indiegogo.com/HelpusredeemGeorgeStinneyJr

    This is a part of history that has never been told. Together we can change that. Will you help?

  11. Shawana says:

    Little Stinney was killed because of his skin color point blank. I cried when I read this story of horror. I can’t believe they killed a little child like this is this manner. May God have mercy on their souls. R.I.P little George, gone but not forgotten.

  12. Survey Says says:

    What a joke. Thinking back to the black kids in my school at that age all of them grabbed their dicks and would have gladly raped someone if they knew they could get away with it. Of course they didn’t look as juvenile as this malnourished kid, but I guarantee their brains function the same.

  13. Heather says:

    I am on the fence on this one. On the one hand blacks were often accused of crimes they did not commit at that point in time. They were then exploited for free labor. Today the justice system has far more technology and it is harder to blame someone when the physical evidence suggests otherwise.

    On the other hand the girls were killed in a manner that suggests a male perpetrator. The argument that George could not lift a 20 pound weapon is a bit far fetched. A healthy male can lift his body weight. That being said I do not think it is right to kill a 14 year old out of revenge. He should have gotten life in prison, if he was in fact guilty.

    Without all the evidence I can’t say one way or another. I know it is popular to say he was innocent. But I don’t know all the facts.

  14. Meaghan says:

    It’s not the weight of the murder weapon, it’s the fact that he supposedly was able to beat one girl to death, and then chase down and overpower the other one and kill her too, that I’m having a hard time believing.

    For me the bigger point is that there was NOT enough evidence to prove he was guilty. Pretty much all they had was that “confession.” He had no history of violence or sexually aggressive behavior. The police never looked at any other suspects. His defense was so pathetic as to be nonexistent. He did not get a fair trial and, even on the off chance that he was guilty, he was pretty much framed anyway.

  15. MIGUEL says:

    IN THE USA ANYTHING IT IS POSSIBLE COLOR PEOPLE ALWAYS WERE USED TO COVER WHITE PEOPLES CRIMES!
    T IS COMMON TO SEE HOW NATIVE AMERICANS, SPANISH SPEAKING OR AFRICANS ARE TREATED EVEN TO THIS DAY. IT IS JUST THAT THE SYSTEM USE A SILENCE WAR THAT IT IS MORE VIOLENT BECAUSE IT DOES NOT HAPPEN IN ONE TIME BUT IT IS FORT LIFE (JOB DESCRIMINATION, HEATH TREATMENT, EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES, ETC)

  16. AC says:

    “What a joke. Thinking back to the black kids in my school at that age all of them grabbed their dicks and would have gladly raped someone if they knew they could get away with it. Of course they didn’t look as juvenile as this malnourished kid, but I guarantee their brains function the same.”

    Why is this sort of racist, pig-sh!t-thick BS allowed on this forum?!

  17. paige says:

    Obviously these girls were murdered by a white man and as usually the white man has blamed an innocent. Absolutely disgusting…America has not changed and if you think it has you are sadly mistaken…
    Besides the regular murder of black men in the US streets by throngs of racist white scumbag pigs, look at the racist whites who write crap on all of these threads….delete their evilness. Keep them off of these sites. they are HUMAN FILTH.

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