14-year-old boy who was executed on death row for crimes he didn't commit

Tom Wood

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14-year-old boy who was executed on death row for crimes he didn't commit

Featured Image Credit: State of South Carolina/Reuters/Alamy

A 14-year-old boy was once executed by the electric chair in the United States, but it emerged 70 years after his death that he was innocent 70 years all along.

It’s definitely an argument against the death penalty, although nobody should be in any doubt that the death penalty shouldn’t be given to children, for sure.

In terms of injustice, the harrowing story of George Stinney Jr. should be a warning to us all.

The African-American child was 14-years-old when he was convicted by a jury of killing two girls. Despite no evidence directly linking him to the crime, the deliberations took just 10 minutes before the jury returned with a guilty verdict.

Then, he was executed two months later without even being allowed to say farewell to his family.

George Stinney Jr. Credit: State of South Carolina
George Stinney Jr. Credit: State of South Carolina

Reports suggested that the guards struggled to secure him into the electric chair, using either a book or a booster seat to put the five foot one and six stone, seven pound child into the electric chair.

It’s a sad sight to imagine, and one that clearly stayed lodged in the memories of those members of his family that fought to clear his name.

His sisters Katherine Robinson and Amie Ruffner, along with their brother Charles, fought tooth and nail for 70 years to achieve justice for George, before his 1944 murder conviction was overturned in 2014.

It was a bittersweet victory for his family, but a small victory nonetheless.

George lived with his family in Alcolu, South Carolina, in a segregated neighbourhood. The town was outraged when in March 1944 two young girls – 11-year-old Bette June Binnicker and seven-year-old Mary Emma Thames – turned up dead in a ditch having been out looking for edible flowers.

The pair had stopped to ask George and his sister whether they’d seen any around, which was reportedly the last time they were ever seen alive.

Hundreds took to the streets to look for the girls, before they turned up a day later dead. Both had suffered heads injuries, with the violence of their murder evident due to the damage.

George was blamed immediately, having been spotted talking to the girls.

George's sisters campaigned for 70 years to clear his name. Credit: Reuters/Alamy
George's sisters campaigned for 70 years to clear his name. Credit: Reuters/Alamy

He was interrogated vociferously and without representation or family, with Clarendon County officers claiming that he had confessed to the killings.

In a statement, one of the arresting officers said: “I arrested a boy by the name of George Stinney.

“He then made a confession and told me where to find a piece of iron about 15 inches long. He said he put it in a ditch about six feet from the bicycle.”

As he was 14, that was deemed to be over the age of criminal responsibility.

George’s family had no idea where he was being held, and saw him only once more after his arrest.

The court-appointed attorney Charles Plowden is said to have done ‘little to nothing’ in defence of his appointed client.

Only the confession was used – no evidence for the defence or witnesses were brought.

No written record was made, and George’s family could not attend for fear of reprisals from the white crowd. The all-white jury took only 10 minutes to unanimously declare George’s guilt, and he was sentenced to death.

On June 16, he was walked into the execution room in Columbia holding a bible.

Because he was so small, the electrodes had to be modified to fit his leg, and the mask wouldn’t fit.

He had no last words.

From arrest to execution took just 83 days, and George was the youngest person to be executed in the USA in the 20th century.

He was buried in an unmarked grave in Crowley, though his family have now erected a memorial.

A memorial now commemorates George. Credit: WCBD
A memorial now commemorates George. Credit: WCBD

In 2014, it was ruled by another judge that George’s lawyer presented ‘few or no witnesses’ and didn’t cross-examine them properly.

George’s sister also testified that he was at home with her on the day in question.

After the conviction was overturned, Katherine said: “It was like a cloud just moved away. “When we got the news, we were sitting with friends…

“I threw my hands up and said, ‘thank you, Jesus!’ someone had to be listening.

“It’s what we wanted for all these years.”

If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence, contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677

Topics: News, US News, Politics, True crime

Tom Wood
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