The Execution of George Stinney, Jr.
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on December 14, 2022
On March 23, 1944, the bodies of two young white girls, Betty June Binnicker, age 11, and Mary Emma Thames, age 7, were discovered in Alcolu, South Carolina. The girls had gone missing the day before, as they did not return home the previous night. Binnicker and Thames both suffered severe blunt force trauma, resulting in penetration of both girls' skulls.
George Stinney Jr., a 14-year-old black teenager, who at the age of 14 was arrested, charged, tried, convicted, and electrocuted for the murders, all within 83 days from when the girls' bodies were discovered. Stinney maintained his innocence throughout his ordeal.
Stinney was executed on June 16, 1944, at 7:30 p.m. at the South Carolina Penitentiary in Columbia, South Carolina. He was prepared for execution in the state’s electric chair, using a Bible as a booster seat because Stinney was too small for the chair.
Stinney was then restrained by his arms, legs, and body to the chair. An officer asked Stinney if he had any last words to say before the execution took place, but he only shook his head.
The executioner pulled a strap from the chair and placed it over Stinney's mouth, causing him to break into tears, and he then placed the face mask over his face, which did not fit him as he continued sobbing. When the lethal electricity was applied, the mask covering slipped off, revealing tears streaming down Stinney's face.
On that fateful date in 1944, George Stinney, Jr. became the youngest American to be sentenced to death and executed in the 20th century. He was murdered by the state of South Carolina for a crime he did not commit.
In 2014, a re-examination of the Judicial proceedings and evidence in Stinney's case began. Several South Carolina social justice advocates -- George Frierson, Steve McKenzie, Matt Burgess, and Ray Chandler, together with the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project and the Northeastern University School of Law -- sought a judicial review of Stinney’s conviction.
On December 14, 2014, South Carolina state court judge Carmen Mullen ruled that George Stinney, Jr. had not received a fair trial, and was thus wrongfully executed. As such, Judge Mullen vacated Stinney's murder conviction -- seventy years after he was executed.
George Stinney, Jr. was initially buried in an unmarked grave. Today, his gravesite is a respected landmark.
Stinney fought the injustice in his case, as best he could. He fought a brave fight.