Poor George Stinney
The Entire Case of George Stinney
Who were George Stinney and his Family?
George Stinney was an African- American child. His full name was George Junious Stinney Jr. He was born on October 21, 1929, in Pinewood, South California, USA. He was accused of murdering two white girls, Betty June Binnicker, age 11 years (1933-1944), and Mary Emma Thames, age 7 years. On 16 June 1944, he died because of sitting on an electric chair.
George Stinney Jr. lived with his father, George Stinney Sr., mother Amie, brothers Johnny 17, and Charles,12, and two sisters, Katherine, 10, and Amie, 8 years old. They all lived in Alcolu village, Clarendon County, South Carolina. George's mother worked as a cook for the black children in the school, and his father worked in the lumber mill in Alcolu. In Alcolu village, houses of both black and white neighbors were separated by railroad tracks.
What was the Incident?
On March 24, 1944, in Alcolu village, (a lumber mill in Alcolu where families of both black and white used to work) the two white girls decided to go for a springtime hunt on their bicycle while searching for the Maypops (passion flowers), they noticed two black children. George Stinney with his family's cow and George's little sister, Amie. The girls asked them if they could tell where to find Maypops. This was the very last moment when they saw the girls for the last time. On that day the two white girls went missing. At last, the two white girls were found dead, in Alcolu, after being brutally beaten up with a railroad spike. After the murder, their bodies were dumped in a water-logged ditch. The murderer put the bicycle over them and the front wheel of the bicycle was gone from its frame. According to the police George and his little sister, Amie were the last ones who saw the two white girls alive.
When the two girls didn't return home that night, a group of nearly 100-200 men organized a search campaign to find out the girls. At the same time, George Stinney was busy attending a neighborhood party along with his father. As soon as George heard about the two white girls, George told his father about his meeting with the two white girls and they both decided to be a part of the search campaign. They all kept searching for the whole night, but nobody could find the girls. The next morning, George Burke Sr., (one of the bosses of the lumber mill) organized a search program with his men. Finally, one man from his search party found the two girls dead, lying under his property.
When Dr. Asbury Cecil examined their bodies, he found no signs of struggle. Marry Emma had a 2-inch deep cut beside the right eyebrow and a hole through her forehead to the skull. Betty June had almost 7 injuries on her head and her skull was nothing but just brutally crushed bones. Indeed, both girls were brutally murdered. There was no sign of sexual assault on the younger girl, though the genitalia of the older one was slightly bruised. It was the first incident that ever took place in Alcolu village.
Arrest of George Stinney
In March 1944, police came to arrest the 14 years old George Stinney. His parents were not present at the home. His little sister, Amie, was playing with hens when she noticed two men in suits going inside the home. She hid inside the chicken coop behind the home. She saw the police handcuff George and elder brother Johnny and they took them with them in a black car. It was the last time Amie saw her brother. On the same night, George's father was fired from his job. Johnny was released by one of the officers of the sheriff. George's family moved to their Grandparent's house along with a few things. George's father feared being lynched.
“The police were looking for somebody on whom they can put the allegation, and they used my brother as a scapegoat,” Amie told some TV channel in the year 2014, the year when the judgement was overturned.
For the villagers of Alcolu George was the murderer of the girls. H.S. Newman, Clarendon Deputy sheriff, told that George had confessed his crime of murdering two white girls within 40 minutes of his arrest. Newman said that George tried to sexually assault them and when the girls gave him a warning of telling their parents, George picked up a railroad spike and started attacking the girls. Newman said George led the police to the location where the railroad spike was hidden. George was being questioned in a small room where neither his parents nor any lawyer was present. Newman refused to disclose the location where George was under detention as there was a possibility of his lynching. Even George's parents were unaware of his actual location. But on March 26, a mob tried to lynch George but got unsuccessful as George had already been moved to an out-of-town jail. He was shifted to a jail that was almost 50 miles away from the Alcolu village.
H.S. Newman stated that George had confessed his crime, but any signed statement by George Stinney was never found and its existence is just a myth. George also claimed that the police officials bribed him with food and in return, George will confess the crime he had not committed. It was reported in 1995, that George injured a girl with a knife. It was a very controversial statement from George's 7th-grade teacher.
And When the Trial War Began!
Before the commencement of the trial, it took one day until proceedings and the selection of the jury members were done. The trial was held on 24th April, at 2:30 p.m. There were only white jury members in the court. Most of the blacks were not allowed to vote and they couldn't become a jury member. The courtroom was full of whites, but the entry of blacks was restricted. Nearly 1500 Whites surrounded The court. The court appointed Charles Plowden as a defense lawyer. Plowden didn't ask anything about the confession that George made to the police, but it was the only evidence against George, though there was not any record of such a statement.
The prosecution came up with two theories regarding the murders. According to the first theory, George was trying to help one girl who had fallen in the ditch, but the girls attacked him and George killed them both while defending himself. Whereas second theory states, that Stinney followed the two girls and he firstly attacked Marry Emma Thames, 7 years, and then Betty June Binnicker, 11 years.
The prosecutor called up the three witnesses who were: the two doctors who examined the dead bodies and were responsible for the post-mortem, and Reverend Francis Batson, who found the bodies in the ditch. The prosecution claimed that George attempted rape. The court wants the report of the possibility of rape, but the medical staff cleared that they had not found any signs of struggle on the dead bodies. Plowden didn't call any witnesses, nor did he cross-examine the witnesses. His contribution as George's defense lawyer was worthless.
The trial procedure lasted almost two and a half hours. The jury members took less than ten minutes to declare George guilty. It was an intentional move by the jury members. Judge Phillip H. Stoll gave the verdict of death sentence by electrocution. Even the transcription of that trial was never found. Plowden didn't file any appeal.
George's family filed an appeal to the Governor, Olin D. Johnston to grant clemency and urged for the punishment of life imprisonment instead of the death sentence, as the boy was too young for this punishment. But at the time, 14 years was the age of criminal responsibility. The others requested the governor for the proceeding of his execution. Olin D. wrote a letter in response to the appeal of his parents. The letter states:
I have just talked with the officer who was arrested in this case. It may be interesting for you to know that George killed the younger girl to rape the older one. Then he killed the older girl and raped her dead body. Twenty-five minutes later he returned and he raped her again but her body was too cold. He has himself admitted this.
Stinney's parents were allowed to meet him once after his trial. Due to the risk of mob lynching, they were not allowed to see him twice.
Stinney's Meeting With Johnny Hunter In Jail
Johnny Hunter was known for stealing a car along with his friends. The police chased him and shot him. The bullet got stuck inside his stomach when he was brought to Sumter's Turney hospital. When he recovered, he was sent to the big jail where George had been living after his trial.
“Why did they get you here,” asked Hunter.
“They are going to electrocute me,” said George.
In jail, George found a friend for himself. George once said to Johnny, “when they electrocute me, I will come back and haunt you.” Their friendship was growing. George asked Johnny, “why they are going to punish me for the crime I didn't commit,” Johnny remains silent. One day George and Hunter heard the sound of heavy footsteps coming toward them. It was the day when they were together. George and Johnny hugged each other for the one last time. George said Goodbye to Hunter.
The End of George Stinney's life, the Execution Day
Finally, Stinney's death arrived. Nearly at 7:25 p.m., three police officers went to their cell of Stinney. One officer grabbed him and took him out of his cell. George was being taken to the execution room where the officers ordered him to sit on the electric chair. A Bible was placed under his arm. He was too young, as he was just 5.1 feet tall and his weight was 95 pounds. Before execution, an assistant police officer asked him to say a few last words if he had any. George refused to say any word. No, sir. The prison doctor asked George, you don't want to say a few words about the crime you have committed. No, sir. The officers pulled a strap from the chair and they placed it inside George's mouth. His eyes were full of tears. Then they covered his face with a mask, but the mask was not a fit for his face.
The executioner turned on the switch. When a current of 2400 volts passed through his body, he started shivering like hell, the mask slipped from his face, showing his burned scalp. Tears covered his face. Another two shots of electric current of 1400 and 500 volts were applied again. His flesh was burnt, saliva was dripping, teeth were smoking and one eye got missing. On June 16, 7:30 p.m., at Central Correctional Institution, Columbia, South Carolina, George Stinney Junious Jr. was finally executed. This whole procedure took not more than five minutes. After three minutes and forty-five seconds of torture, George's alive body turned into a dead dead body. After eight minutes, Stinney was officially declared dead.
All the visitors from Alcolu returned. Later Stinney's dead body was buried in an unmarked grave behind a white church in Pinewood, South Carolina. Just after 84 days of murders, poor Stinney got executed. George was the youngest person executed in the 20th century in America.
When the Case was About to Reopen (collection of witness and evidence)
In 2004, a local historian whose name was George Frierson, raised in Alcolu village, started researching the case after reading an article in the newspaper, The Sumter Item, regarding this case. Steve McKenzie, a lawyer from South Carolina, showed interest in this case. After doing his research, he concluded that justice had not been served. George's lawyer, Plowden, left him alone in the courtroom and did nothing to save him from execution. Steve McKenzie handed over a file to Matt Burgess, his assistant, containing affidavits, and black and white photocopies of legal records. Burgess discovered a few articles in the newspapers, Black boy to die for slaying the girls.
In addition, Ray Brown and attorney James Moon, and others spent many days searching for the witnesses and evidence which were necessary to give the case a new strength.
Burgess wondered how a boy, 14 years, beat two girls until their death. Was he strong enough to drag their bodies into the ditch? How is it possible that a black boy killed two girls and nobody noticed it? Burgess discovered a statement of Charles Stinney, George's younger brother, in that file. On Monday, Burgess did call a number in Brooklyn and Charles Stinney received the call.
Everyone recalls, but where were they and what they were doing when 9/11 happened, for my family whatever events had happened on Friday 24, 1944, and the events after that, are our personal 9/11.
On October 25, 2013, McKenzie along with Burgess and Ray Chandler, filed a request for a new trial. If we get the case reopened, we can say to the Judge, There was no reason to punish the child, there was no evidence that could be presented to the jury. There was no transcription. This case should be reopened, Justice should be served. I am sure we will be successful in the courtroom. We have got a witness who had no relationship between George and his family. He was with Mr. Stinney and didn't come forward.
Later George Frierson stated in interviews, that the rumored culprit used to belong to a well-known white family who had served on the initial coroner's jury and they recommended the prosecution of Stinney. Reverend Francis Batson, who discovered the dead bodies, told attorney Burgess that he helped in the search for the two missing white girls until 3 a.m., on March 24, 1944, and then he went home. Two hours later, he again joined the search group led by George Burke Sr. His age was 15 at the time. Nearly at 7: 30 a.m., one man from the group saw the lying dead bodies of girls, he was confused and felt one girl was still breathing and he sent Batson for confirmation.
Batson mentioned something very disturbing, he said about George Burke Sr., the farm operation manager and one of the bosses of the D.W. Alderman and Sons company. While investigating the records of trials, Burgess had seen this name several times. In 1944, Burke organized a search party with Ben Alderman. The name of George Burke Sr. was listed as the foreman of the coroner's inquest and recommended charging Stinney for murder (as per the details provided by the South Carolina Department of Archives). Burke's name appears once again in an old newspaper article as a member of the grand jury that convicted George of murder.
Burgess went to several maps of Alcolu village during the periods of the 30s and 40s. The maps were showing almost everything from the location of the mill. Burgess noticed George Burke Sr.’s name as the holder of the land behind Green Hill Baptist Church, the exact location where bodies were discovered. Burgess noticed Burke's involvement in almost every stage of the case and he realized that the case was corrupt from the beginning.
In addition, Burgess found an external examination report of the two dead bodies, signed by Dr. AC. Bozard, at the State Department of Archives and History. The long document states that “a round object as same as the size of a head of a hammer” causes the wounds. Ray Chandler, a member with attorneys Burgess and McKenzie, discussed with a forensic pathologist, Peter J. Stephens, and Stephens agreed that the wounds caused by a railroad spike can't be round. He explained that a railroad spike would cause deeper injuries to the girls.
When Dr. Bozard fell ill, the case was assigned to another pathologist. The doctor was not sure whether the girls had been sexually assaulted or not, he said there was only a possibility. But Dr. Bozard examined the body and noticed that the genitalia of only Betty June, 11, was slightly bruised which might be occurred due to her habit of regular bicycling. Dr. Bozard concluded none of the girls had been raped. His revelation exposed the propaganda of the governors against George.
70 Years Later, the Hearing Commenced Once Again
In January 2014, new evidence was included in the hearing, including the statement of Stinney's siblings saying that he was with them at the time of the murder incident. An affidavit was also presented by Reverend Francis Batson. In his statement, Batson stated, that there was not so much blood around the ditch, they may have been killed somewhere else and then moved and dumped. A 14-year-old kid could not murder the girls and drag and dumped their bodies into the ditch which was almost 300 yards away from the railroads where George had spoken to the girls. But Batson didn't notice any drag marks or footprints.
George's sister traveled to Summer County Judicial Centre for the case. As the hearing began, the attorneys didn't argue that George killed them or not, they said George was deprived of exercising his fundamental rights. McKenzie called Amie. McKenzie asked her to tell him about what happened in 1944.
It was the first time I saw white girls in the neighborhood, she asked about Maypops and me and my brother replied and they went off. From that time, George was with me till he joined the search party that night, said Amie.
Almost after a year, on December 17, 2014, Judge Carmen T. Mullen vacated George's conviction. She released an order which was handed over to Burgess. Burgess immediately rushed to his office and called Amie who was almost 600 miles away. As soon as she picked up the call, Burgess began reading the order:
“From time to time, we have been called to look back to examine our still recent history and correct injustice where possible, I think of no greater fundamental injustice.”
“They have cleared George's name, they cleared his name”, said Amie.
Stinney’s sibling Katherine Robinson said, “it was like a dark cloud that moved away.” Finally, after seven decades, a group of attorneys took almost a year to overturn the judgment.