June 16, 1944: George Stinney, Jr. is executed. Stinney was born and raised in Alcolu, South Carolina. Betty June Binnicker, 11 years old, and Mary Emma Thames, 8 years old, were looking to pick some flowers. The two white girls lived on the other side of the tracks – literally. The town was divided by the railroad tracks with the whites on one side and blacks on the other. On March 23, 1944, the two girls rode their bikes across the tracks to find some “maypops” or passionflowers. They stopped by the Stinney house where George and his sister, Katherine, were playing outside. The girls asked if they knew where to find some of the flowers. They were never seen alive again.
Search parties were organized the next morning to search for the girls. They were found dead in a ditch with blunt force trauma to their heads and faces with wounds consistent with being struck repeatedly with a hammer. There was also bruising of Betty’s genitalia noted during the autopsy. George was arrested. His father was fired from his job and the family left town to avoid the violence threatened against them. That left 14 year old George alone without any support or adult to look after his concerns. His court appointed counsel was a tax commissioner campaigning for election to a local office.
At the time, African-Americans were not permitted to vote in South Carolina and the only way to be selected as a juror was to be selected from voting records. Therefore, the jury was all-white. The entire session lasted for about two and a half hours which included the jury selection process, the trial, and the deliberation period. Three police witnesses claimed George had confessed to the crime (something he denied). There was no record of any confession to present as evidence. In fact, there was no evidence at all. George’s counsel did not challenge the witnesses. The only other witnesses were the man who discovered the bodies and the two doctors who performed the autopsies. George’s counsel called no witnesses. After ten minutes, the jury returned with a guilty verdict.
George was executed in Columbia (capital of South Carolina) on this day at 7.30 PM. He was the youngest person to be executed in the US during the entire century. The slight teenager was only 5’1” tall and weighed just over 90 pounds. He did not fit into the electric chair, his means of execution. He carried a Bible with him to the execution chamber and had to sit on it to fit better into the chair. The face-mask slipped during the delivery of the first jolt and he wide-open eyes, brimming with tears were visible. It took two more jolts before he was dead. Only 81 days had passed from the time he was arrested until his execution. In 2004, a local historian looked into the case and had it reopened. On December 17, 2014, George Stinney’s conviction was vacated as it was cited that the teenager had not received any kind of defense at his trial and his Sixth Amendment rights had been violated.
If we can get the case re-opened, we can go to the judge and say, ‘There wasn’t any reason to convict this child. There was no evidence to present to the jury. There was no transcript. This case needs to be re-opened. This is an injustice that needs to be righted.’ – Steve McKenzie, South Carolina lawyer
I’m pretty optimistic that if we can get the witnesses we need to come forward, we will be successful in court. We hopefully have a witness that’s going to say — that’s non-family, non-relative witness — who is going to be able to tie all this in and say that they were basically an alibi witness. They were there with Mr. Stinney and this did not occur. – Steve McKenzie
People who [just] read these articles in the newspaper don’t know the truth. – Betty Binnicker’s niece
If we are not our brother’s keeper, at least let us not be his executioner. – Marlon Brando
Also on this day: Red v. White – In 1487, the Battle of Stoke Field was fought ending the Wars of the Roses.
Education – In 1976, the Soweto Uprising took place.
Psycho – In 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller was released.
Children’s Party – In 1883, the Victoria Hall Disaster left 183 children dead.
Lincoln’s House Divided Speech – In 1858, Lincoln gave his famous speech.