At only 14 years of age, George Junius Stinney, Jr. was the youngest person ever executed in the United States. Weighing barely 90 lbs., Stinney was so small, he required a booster seat to reach the headpiece of the electric chair. Stinney had been convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of two young white girls, 11-year-old Betty June Binnicker and 8-year-old Mary Emma Thames. With no physical evidence in the case and only the testimony of three southern police officers claiming Stinney had given a confession, the all-white jury convicted Stinney in less than ten minutes.
The deaths of Betty Binnicker and Mary Thames
The deaths of Betty and Mary occurred on March 23, 1944 in Alcolu, South Carolina, deep in the Jim Crow South. The girls were last seen near Stinney’s home and Stinney admits that the girls had stopped to ask him if he knew where they could find maypops flowers. A search party found the girls’ bodies in a ditch, bruised and battered by what is presumed to have been a railroad spike.
The George Stinney murder trial and execution
Stinney’s entire trial, including jury selection, presentation, and conviction, took place in a single day. Stinney’s defense counselor was a local tax commissioner who was campaigning for election to a local political post. Three police officers testified that Stinney had confessed to the crime but Stinney denied he accusation and authorities admitted they had no written records of the purported confession. The entire trial presentation took only two hours. The jury was all-white (black people were not allowed to vote at the time) and reached their guilty verdict in 10 minutes. Stinney’s defense attorney chose not to appeal.
George Stinney was executed on June 16, 1944 at 7:30 PM. He walked to the execution chamber with a Bible under his arm. Standing five-feet tall and weighing around 90 pounds, officers could not secure his frail body to the frame of the electric chair. His Bible had to be used as a booster seat. When 2,400 volts of electricity hit him, the adult-size mask fell from his face “revealing his wide-open, tearful eyes”.
According to George Frierson, a local Alcolu historian who researched the case in depth over 50 years later:
“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.”
In January 2014, Stinney’s then-77-year-old sister Amie Ruffner told CBS affiliate WLTX that the two girls her brother was executed for killing came by their house asking where they could find flowers and then left. She said she and her brother told them “no” then went back to tending to the family’s cow. Her testimony was never allowed in the trial.
Exoneration – 70 years later
On December 17, 2014, Stinney’s conviction was posthumously vacated by a circuit court – 70 years after his execution – on the grounds that his Sixth Amendment rights had been violated.
Official documents from the case, and pictures of the two victims, can be viewed in the pictorial gallery below.