|George Junius Stinney Jr.|
Stinney mug shot
|Born||October 21, 1929|
|Died||June 16, 1944 (aged 14)
Columbia, South Carolina
|Penalty||Death by electric chair|
The question of Stinney’s guilt and the judicial process leading to his execution remain controversial.
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. 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.
Stinney was arrested a few hours later and was interrogated by several officers in a locked room with no witnesses aside from the officers; within an hour, a deputy announced that Stinney had confessed to the crime. According to the confession, Stinney (90 lbs, 5’1″) wanted to “have sex with” 11 year old Betty June Binnicker and could not do so until her companion, Mary Emma Thames, age 8, was removed from the scene; thus he decided to kill Mary Emma. When he went to kill Mary Emma, both girls “fought back” and he thus decided to kill Betty June, as well, with a 15 inch railroad spike that was found in the same ditch a distance from the bodies. According to the accounts of deputies, Stinney apparently had been successful in killing both at once, causing major blunt trauma to their heads, shattering the skulls of each into at least 4-5 pieces. The next day, Stinney was charged with first-degree murder. Jones describes the town’s mood as grief, transformed in the span of a few hours into seething anger, with the murders raising racially and politically charged tension. Townsmen threatened to storm the local jail to lynch Stinney, but prior to this, he had been removed to Charleston by law enforcement. Stinney’s father was fired from his job at the local lumber mill and the Stinney family left town during the night in fear for their lives.
The trial took place on April 24 at the Clarendon County Courthouse. Jury selection began at 10 am, ending just after noon, and the trial commenced at 2:30 pm. Stinney’s court appointed lawyer was 30-year-old Charles Plowden, who had political aspirations. Plowden did not cross-examine witnesses; his defense was reported to consist of the claim that Stinney was too young to be held responsible for the crimes. However the law in South Carolina at the time regarded anyone over the age of 14 as an adult. Closing arguments concluded at 4:30 pm, the jury retired just before 5 pm and deliberated for 10 minutes, returning a guilty verdict with no recommendation for mercy. Stinney was sentenced to death in the electric chair. When asked about appeals, Plowden replied that there would be no appeal, as the Stinney family had no money to pay for a continuation. When asked about the trial, Lorraine Binnicker Bailey, the sister of Betty June Binnicker, one of the murdered children, stated:
|“||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.||”|
—Lorraine Binnicker Bailey, sister of victim Betty June Binnicker, as quoted by Jones, Mark R., South Carolina Killers: Crimes of Passion, pg. 41.
Local churches, the N.A.A.C.P., and unions pleaded with Governor Olin D. Johnston to stop the execution and commute the sentence to life imprisonment, citing Stinney’s age as a mitigating factor. There was substantial controversy about the pending execution, with one citizen writing to Johnston, stating, “Child execution is only for Hitler.” Still, there were supporters of Stinney’s execution; another letter to Johnston stated: “Sure glad to hear of your decision regarding the nigger Stinney.” Johnston did nothing, thereby allowing the execution to proceed.
The execution of George Stinney was carried out at the South Carolina State Penitentiary in Columbia, South Carolina, on June 16, 1944. At 7:30 p.m., Stinney walked to the execution chamber with a Bible under his arm. Standing 5’1″ and weighing just over 90 pounds, he was small for his age, which presented difficulties in securing him to the frame holding the electrodes. Neither did the state’s adult-sized face-mask fit Stinney; his convulsing exposed his face to witnesses as the mask slipped free. 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.
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 into 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 the 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.