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In 1944, We Executed A 14-Year-Old Boy. Why Did It Take 70 Years For Us To Exonerate Him?

George Stinney is the youngest person ever executed in the U.S. And there was no evidence that he committed the crime he died for.Warning: Some graphic details of Stinney's death.

In 1944, We Executed A 14-Year-Old Boy. Why Did It Take 70 Years For Us To Exonerate Him?

The year was 1944, the time of Jim Crow in the South.

Two young white girls were found murdered in South Carolina.

Their names were Betty June Binnicker and Mary Emma Thames. They were 11 and 8 years old, respectively. According to reports, they were riding their bikes and looking for flowers. They were found brutally beaten to death in a ditch.


George Stinney was a 14-year-old black boy. He became the #1 suspect in their murders.

After a search crew found the girls' bodies, a bystander reportedly told the police that Stinney had told him he was the last person to see the girls alive. So the police took Stinney in for interrogation. Five days later, the sheriff announced that Stinney had confessed to the girls' murders.

It took 10 minutes for an all-white male jury to convict Stinney of the murders and sentence him to death.

According to Al-Jazeera, "no physical evidence was presented." The Grio also notes that "there is no written record of his confession in the archives," while the Associated Press points out that there were no witnesses called by the defense.

On June 16, 1944, Stinney was executed in the electric chair.

He weighed only 95 pounds and measured just over five feet tall. He was so small, he had to sit on a phone book when he got into the chair.

In 2011, three South Carolina attorneys and an activist announced plans to reopen the case.

The attorneys were Steven McKenzie, Shaun Kent, and Ray Chandler. The community activist was George Frierson. They suspected Stinney's confession was coerced.

Betty June's niece said that she didn't want the case reopened.

She told NBC News:

"We always knew that our aunt was murdered, and we always knew that it was George Stinney Jr. My grandparents, to begin with, never recovered. That was their baby daughter."

Still, attorneys went ahead, given the new evidence they had found.

In January 2014, the attorneys presented their argument for reopening the case.

Here is the evidence that pointed to Stinney's innocence:

  1. In 1944, South Carolina Gov. Olin Johnston wrote a letter stating that Stinney killed 8-year-old Mary Emma first, then killed and raped Betty June. But a recent autopsy report indicated there was no evidence that Betty June was sexually assaulted.
  2. Stinney's sister testified that she had been with Stinney on the day the girls were murdered.
  3. A child psychiatrist testified that Stinney's confession had likely been coerced and unreliable.

On Dec. 17, 2014, South Carolina judge Carmen Mullins exonerated George Stinney of his murder conviction.

Mullins said that during Stinney's trial, there appeared to have been "fundamental, Constitutional violations of due process."

She also said in her ruling:

"Given the particularized circumstances of Stinney's case, I find by a preponderance of the evidence standard, that a violation of the Defendant's procedural due process rights tainted his prosecution."

In other words: After 70 years, Stinney's name is finally cleared.

Hear this brilliant poet tell the sad, awful story of George Stinney.

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FACT-CHECK TIME!

Our fact-checkers determined that this slam poet's retelling of Stinney's account is on-point and accurate, except for two minor details:

  • The poet says one of the victims' names was "Betty Jane," but it was Betty June.
  • The poet refers to Stinney's court-appointed lawyer as "Mr. Plowcher," but it was Mr. (Charles) Plowden.
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
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