In 1944, George Junius Stinney, Jr., age 14, became the youngest person executed for a crime in the U.S. in the 20th century. The 5’1, 90-pound African American boy was sent to the electric chair for allegedly killing two young white girls. They were 11-year-old Betty June Binnicker and 8-year-old Mary Emma Thames. The girls died after being stabbed with a railroad spike. Their bodies were dragged to a creek in Columbia, South Carolina and found on March 25th.
On March 23, 1944, the two girls disappeared while looking for flowers on their bicycles. As they passed the Stinney home, they asked the 7th grader and his sister, Katherine, if they knew where to find maypop flowers. A day later, the girls were found dead with severe head wounds in a ditch of muddy water. Among the search crew was George Stinney Sr.
After he was arrested for the crime, his father, George Stinney Sr., was fired from his job at the sawmill and the family was forced to move away from the city for fear of lynchings from the angry mobs. Junior would be left to face trial alone. The family believed that any one of them could be convicted and felt it was best to let the courts handle the case. According to the police, George Stinney Jr. confessed to wanting sex with Betty June and as he tried to kill her friend, Mary Emma, they fought. He allegedly killed both girls with a 15-inch railroad spike, which was found near the crime scene.
The confession of George Stinney, Jr. was never recorded in police files. There were even rumors that he was offered ice cream by the police if he cooperated with the confession. He was given a court-appointed tax commissioner as a defense lawyer. There were no witnesses called to the stand. Currently there is no transcript of the trial details and blacks were not allowed inside the courtroom.
Despite a forced confession and a 10-minute jury decision, George Stinney Jr. was sentenced to the electric chair in 83 days. The prosecution was not allowed a retrial. Now, 69 years later, the Stinney family hopes for a new chance. They want the case re-tried to exonerate their wrongly-convicted relative.
There is currently a docudrama in production about Stinney’s story entitled, “83 Days: the Murder of George Stinney Jr.”, directed by Charles Burnett and written by Ray Lenard Brown.