In March 1944, deep in the Jim Crow South, police came for 14-year-old George Stinney Jr. His parents weren’t at home. His little sister was hiding in the family’s chicken coop behind the house in Alcolu, a segregated mill town in South Carolina, while officers handcuffed George and his older brother, Johnnie, and took them away.
Two young white girls had been found brutally murdered, beaten over the head with a railroad spike and dumped in a water-logged ditch. He and his little sister, who were black, were said to be last ones to see them alive. Authorities later released the older Stinney – and directed their attention toward George.
“[The police] were looking for someone to blame it on, so they used my brother as a scapegoat,” his sister Amie Ruffner told WLTX-TV earlier this year.
On June 16, 1944, he was executed, becoming the youngest person in modern times to be put to death. It took 70 years to clear his name and exonerate him.
Stinney’s case has tormented civil rights advocates for years.
He was questioned in a small room, alone – without his parents, without an attorney. (Gideon v. Wainwright, the landmark Supreme Court case guaranteeing the right to counsel, wouldn’t be decided until 1963.) Police claimed the boy confessed to killing Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, 8, admitting he wanted to have sex with Betty. They rushed him to trial.
After a two-hour trial and a 10-minute jury deliberation, Stinney was convicted of murder on April 24 and sentenced to die by electrocution, according to a book by Mark R. Jones. At the time, 14 was the age of criminal responsibility. His lawyer, a local political figure, chose not to appeal.
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