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This is George J. Stinney, Jr. This is his mug shot. He was born on October 21, 1929, and he was executed by the State of South Carolina on June 16, 1944. He was then fourteen years old. He was just 5'1" tall and weighed 95 pounds. He was the youngest person executed in the United States.

The Murders.  Two white girls, Betty June Binnicker, age 11, and Mary Emma Thames, age 8, disappeared while out riding their bicycles.  They were looking for flowers to put on their bicycles. As they passed where Stinney lived, they asked George Stinney and his sister, Katherine, if they knew where to find some "maypops", a kind of flower. When the girls did not return, hundreds of people joined search parties. 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 alone by several officers in a locked room. Within an hour a deputy announced that Stinney had confessed to the crime.

The Confession. Stinney wanted to "have sex with" 11-year old Betty June Binnicker and could not do so unless her friend, Mary Emma Thames was removed from the scene.  So he decided to kill Mary Emma. When he went to kill Mary Emma, both girls "fought back." So he decided to kill Betty June, too.  He used a 15 inch railroad spike that was later found in the same ditch as the bodies. According to deputies, Stinney had somehow been successful in killing both at once.  Somehow one of them did not escape.  He inflicted major blunt trauma to their heads, shattering their skulls into at least 4-5 pieces. The confession was never recorded in any police files. There were even rumors that he was offered ice cream by the police if he cooperated by providing a confession.

The Town exploded. The next day, Stinney was charged with first degree murder.  The town's grief grew rapidly into seething anger.  People threatened to storm the local jail to lynch Stinney, but he had already been moved to Charleston.  Stinney's father was fired from his job at the local lumber mill and the Stinney family fled during the night in fear for their lives.

The Trial.  Because his family had fled, the fourteen year old faced the death penalty jury trial by himself. Jury selection took just two hours. It began at 10 am and ended just after noon, when a lunch recess was taken.  The evidence began at 2:30 pm. Stinney's court appointed lawyer was 30-year-old Charles Plowden, a tax commissioner.  Plowden was no Atticus Finch.  He did not cross-examine a single witness.  His defense apparently was that Stinney was too young to be held criminally responsible for the crimes.  No such luck. South Carolina law was that anyone over the age of 14 as an adult. Summations ended at 4:30 pm, and after jury instructions, the jury retired just before 5 pm.  The jury deliberated for all of 10 minutes.  Stinney was found guilty with no recommendation for mercy and was sentenced to death in the electric chair.

There was no appeal.  When asked about appeals, Plowden replied that there would be no appeal, as the Stinney family had no money to pay for a continuation.

The Execution. George Stinney was electrocuted at the South Carolina State Penitentiary 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. The state's adult-sized face-mask didn’t fit him. His convulsing exposed his tear streaked 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 a total of eighty one days elapsed.

I doubt that this shameful case received much public attention. In June, 1944, the newspapers were filled with the events of D-Day and news from Europe. And it's hard to re-construct what happened in the trial now.  There are apparently no transcripts of the testimony.  What remains is just the horror and revulsion of this repellant execution.

The Supreme Court finally ruled in 2005 (Roper v. Simmons) that juveniles who had committed crimes under the age of 18 could not be executed for them.  Even before the Court's ruling 19 states did not allow the execution of juveniles. But 22 juveniles were executed in the modern era for crimes committed before they were 18, including Stinney.  That is the part of the shameful, disgraceful legacy of state killing.

What will it take before the horror of executing juveniles, of executing the developmentally disabled, of executing those who did not commit murder, generally applies to all state killing?  How long will it take?

cross posted from The Dream Antilles

Originally posted to davidseth on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 03:05 PM PDT.

Also republished by Inherent Human Rights, Abolish the Death Penalty, and Erase the Hate.

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Comment Preferences

  •  First, we'll probably have to come to the (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NY brit expat, mango

    point of considering human rights to be more important than property rights.  Whoever killed those two little girls deprived their parents of property.  So, that was a great grievance.
    Ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child might be a big step forward.  If children are recognized as having human rights, then perhaps their recognition in adults will follow and the interests of the amorphous state will have to take a back seat.

    by hannah on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 03:51:38 PM PDT

    •  I don't understand that comment at all. (0+ / 0-)

      It sounds to me like you've come up against the conundrum that humanist critiques of the death penalty face: if killing someone out of selfish malice is the worst thing a person can ever do to another person, what's the appropriate punishment for that?  It sounds like you're trivializing the deaths of the girls as a mere loss of property for the parents, in order to criticize the execution of the boy.  I'm pretty sure there are better ways to do that.  Or am I misunderstanding your first paragraph entirely?

      The Rent Is Too Damn High Party feels that if you want to marry a shoe, I'll marry you. --Jimmy McMillan

      by Rich in PA on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 04:32:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think you are misunderstanding the point (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        psychodrew, mango, frandor55, hannah, davidseth

        the point the commentator was raising was the importance of human beings over property rights; in many senses still today children are seen as the property of their parents rather than human beings with their own rights (this was an important part of enlightenment doctrine in the destruction of the god-father-son partriachia of Filmer to justify an absolutist king which Locke criticised), first recognition that people had rights and that children were not the property of the parents and had their own rights were an important advance of bourgeois democracy.

        One main problem in the US is that property rights predominates over the notion of human rights. I think that is what the commenter was raising, not a justification of the two children's murder. If human rights was predominant rather than property rights, the human rights of this poor little boy would have been addressed is what she was raising. I may be misunderstanding her point, but this is what I saw when I read the comment.

        However, I think there is more than that going on in this child's murder, this is jim crow "justice" where we see a young black child as victim of a state-sponsored hate crime and murder.

        "Hegel noticed somewhere that all great world history facts and people so to speak twice occur. He forgot to add: the one time as tragedy, the other time as farce" Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte .

        by NY brit expat on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 06:48:23 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Right. That's the point I wanted to make. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          However, to a large extent, the minority population served as a "worst case" exemplar of a general attitude towards other humans as being just another species to be exploited. That humans are not to be used and abused on a whim because they are special, persons with god-given rights was a principle which the Constitution almost immediately went on to violate not just by declaring some humans to be less, but by excluding large segments of the population from participating in governing. Governing by the people did not become practicable until the actualization of universal suffrage in 1971. And children are still subject to being emancipated, while the state still retains a hold on males in requiring them to register for involuntary servitude. So, the primacy of the state over the person is asserted.  Not to mention that when any person is killed, that technically an insult against the state, a deprivation of a property claim.  Which is why the state insists on the right to take a life in revenge.

          What I'd argue is that removing a menace to society is a moral response. Killing a menace in cold blood is not.

          by hannah on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 10:18:17 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Haunting story (6+ / 0-)

    I cannot even imagine...14 years old. The absolute terror he must have felt.

    Great diary.

    R.I.P. Troy Anthony Davis
    October 9, 1968 - September 21, 2011

    by SwedishJewfish on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 05:43:21 PM PDT

  •  That poor little boy. (6+ / 0-)

    What a screwed up country we live in.

  •  Strong Chance He Did Not Commit Crime (6+ / 0-)

    No way to know. It sounds more like adult criminal behavior.,

    Existence is no more than the precarious attainment of relevance in an intensely mobile flux of past, present, and future.~~~ Susan Sontag

    by frandor55 on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 07:01:04 PM PDT

  •  A horrific story that is important to keep alive. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    In memory of George Stinney, let's abolish the death penalty in America.

    Thank you for this diary.

    "Individuals need to know how to judge truth claims objectively; how to be skeptical; how to be avoid gullibility, nincompoopery, fraudulent and counterfeit promises; how to live with ambiguities and uncertainties." Paul Kurtz

    by Tennessee Dave on Tue Sep 27, 2011 at 07:42:22 PM PDT

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