George Stinney Jr. was a fourteen years old African American child who was executed in South Carolina in 1944 for killing two young white girls. Later, he was exonerated in 2014; 70 years after his execution. George Stinney Jr. is the youngest American and also the youngest person in modern times to be executed by electric chair.
George Stinney Jr. was born as George Junius Stinney Jr. on Monday, October 21, 1929 (age 14 years; at the time of death), in Pinewood, South Carolina, United States. He grew up in the segregated mill town of Alcolu, a small, working-class mill town in South Carolina where black people and white people were separated by railroad tracks. Although black and white families lived separately on opposite sides of the railroad spur, men of both races worked side by side for the D.W. Alderman and Sons Company. George lived with his parents and four siblings in a three-room company house in Alcolu near the railroad tracks, which was reserved for black families. George Stinney Jr. was a student of 7th grade at Alcolu’s school for black children.
Height: 5′ 1″
Eye Color: Black
Hair Color: Black
Family & Ethnicity
George Stinney Jr. belonged to an African American family of South Carolina.
Parents & Siblings
His father, George Stinney Sr., was a former sharecropper who worked at the town’s sawmill, and his mother, Aime, was a cook at Alcolu’s school for black children. George Stinney Jr. had two brothers – John (17 years old; half-brother) and Charles (12 years old). He had two younger sisters – Katherine (10 years old) and Aime (7 years old).
The Murder of Two White Girls
On March (24 or 25), 1944, the bodies of two white young girls, Betty June Binnicker (11 years old) and Mary Emma Thames (7 years old), were found in Alcolu, South Carolina. Both girls had gone missing the previous day.
While riding their bicycles in Alcolu, the girls were looking for flowers. When the girls passed by George Stinney Jr.’s house, they saw George and his sister Aime, the girls stopped and asked them if they could tell them where to find maypops, the yellow edible fruit of passionflowers. Reportedly, that was the last time the girls were seen alive.
Betty June Binnicker and Mary Emma Thames never made it home that day. The disappearance of Binnicker and Thames led hundreds of Alcolu residents, including George Stinney’s father, to come together and search for the missing girls. The next morning, a search party led by George Burke Sr., one of the big bosses at the lumber mill, discovered the dead bodies of the young girls in a soggy ditch, on the African American side of Alcolu.
According to Dr. Asbury Cecil Bozard, who had examined the dead bodies of Binnicker and Thames, the girls had met gruesome death involving multiple head injuries, but there was no clear sign of a struggle. The girls were so brutally killed that Thames had a hole boring into her skull through her forehead. There was also a two-inch-long cut above the right eyebrow of Thames. Meanwhile, there were at least seven blows to the head of Binnicker. Later, it was reported that the back of Binnicker’s skull was “nothing but a mass of crushed bones.” Bozard concluded that the girls were likely attacked by a “round instrument about the size of the head of a hammer.” Later, a rumor also started doing rounds in the town that on the same day of their murder, the girls had made a stop at a white family’s home; however, it was never confirmed, and the police never looked for a white killer. When a witness informed Clarendon County law enforcement officers that the girls were seen talking to Stinney, they raided George Stinney Jr.’s home and arrested George Stinney and his older brother Johnny. Later, Johnny was released but George was held.
The Trial of George Stinney Jr.
After George Stinney Jr. was promptly handcuffed, a trial ensued that lasted barely two hours during which he was interrogated in a small room where there was no attorney, no witnesses, and not even his parents. According to police, Stinney confessed to killing Binnicker and Thames in an attempt to have sex with one of the girls. The arresting officer, H.S. Newman, in a handwritten statement, wrote,
I arrested a boy by the name of George Stinney. He then made a confession and told me where to find a piece of iron about 15 inches long. He said he put it in a ditch about six feet from the bicycle.”
Soon after the Stinney’s arrest, the rumors of lynching started getting spread throughout the town, and the police kept Stinney’s whereabouts a secret, even Stinney’s parents were unaware of his whereabouts. Nearly after a month of the death of Binnicker and Thames, the trial of George Stinney Jr. began at a Clarendon County Courthouse. Although Charles Plowden was appointed the attorney by the court, he did “little to nothing” to defend George Stinney Jr. During the two-hour trial, no substantial evidence could produce to protect George, and the most concrete evidence presented against him was his alleged confession, though there was no written record of his confession. During the trial, Stinney was surrounded by almost 1500 strangers, and he hadn’t seen his parents in weeks. Following a deliberation that barely took 10 minutes, George Stinney Jr. was found guilty by the all-white jury that didn’t recommend mercy for him. On April 24, 1944, Judge P.H. Stoll of Kingstree sentenced George Stinney Jr. to die by electrocution.
As the date of George Stinney’s execution approached, protests across South Carolina started getting mounted. Protestors petitioned Gov. Olin Johnston to grant George clemency on the pretext of his young age. The governor’s office received hundreds of letters and telegrams from all over the state and across the country; demanding mercy for George.
Protestors also warned Gov. Olin Johnston of racial tensions; however, Johnston didn’t budge, and he responded with a letter, describing the brutality of George’s alleged offense, Johnston wrote –
I have just talked with the officer who made the arrest in this case. It may be interesting for you to know that Stinney killed the smaller girl to rape the larger one. Then he killed the larger girl and raped her dead body. Twenty minutes later he returned and attempted to rape her again but her body was too cold. All of this he admitted himself.”
The Execution of America’s Youngest Person
On June 16, 1944, the day of George Stinney Jr.’s execution, when he walked into the execution chamber at the South Carolina State Penitentiary in Columbia, he was dressed in a loose-fitting striped jumpsuit with a Bible tucked under his arm. The 14 years old George Stinney Jr. was 5′ 1″ tall and weighed just 95 pounds at that time.
George was strapped into an adult-size electric chair, and his small stature caused the state electrician to struggle to adjust an electrode to George’s right leg. Reportedly, the mask used was too big to cover his face.
Before the execution, when Stinney was asked if he had any last words, he replied,
When the prison doctor asked,
You don’t want to say anything about what you did?”
George again replied,
Reportedly, when the officials turned on the switch, 2,400 volts surged through Stinney’s body that caused the mask, which covered George’s face, to slip off. According to the witnesses present in the room, Geroge’s eyes were wide and teary, and saliva was emanating from his mouth. After two more jolts of electricity, George Stinney Jr. was pronounced dead.
In 2014, George Stinney Jr.’s murder conviction was overturned, and he was exonerated, 70 years after his execution. On December 17, 2014, while overturning George’s murder conviction, Judge Carmen T. Mullen called the death sentence a –
great and fundamental injustice.”
Filled with the overjoy of George’s exoneration, his sister, Katherine Robinson said,
It was like a cloud just moved away. When we got the news, we were sitting with friends… I threw my hands up and said, ‘Thank you, Jesus!’ Someone had to be listening. It’s what we wanted for all these years.”
In Popular Media
David Stout’s first novel, “Carolina Skeletons (1988)” was based on George Stinney Jr.’s case. In 1991, this novel was adapted as a television movie of the same name. In 1993, the noted American author Albert French wrote a novel “Billy” based on this case. In 1996, the novel “The Green Mile” by Stephen King was also loosely inspired by the Stinney case, this novel was adapted as a Hollywood movie of the same name in 1999; starring Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan who played the role of “John Coffey,” a character which was inspired by Stinney’s story.
In 2015, Frances Pollock wrote an opera, Stinney. In 2018, a short film titled “83 Days” was released.
- George spent his short life in Alcolu, a sawmill village along the northern hill of the Pocotaglio Swamp in rural Clarendon County, some 80 miles north of Charleston.
- Geroge’s family grew vegetables in the garden and had a cow. George Stinney Jr. used to take the cow to meadows for grazing.
- On Sundays, he used to visit the nearby Greenhill Baptist Church along with the rest of Alcolu’s black families.
- According to George’s cellmate, Wilford “Johnny” Hunter, who was seventeen at that time and got arrested for joyriding in a stolen car, Geroge loved to sing country songs from The Grand Ole Opry, and his favorite one was Ernest Tubb’s “Walking the Floor Over You.”
- George also loved to play hide-and-seek in the bunks.
- When he was arrested by the police from his house, his father, George Sr. was fired from his job at the mill that night.
- Following George’s arrest, his family fled to their grandmother’s house in Pinewood.
- According to a reporter from The State newspaper in Columbia, throughout the trial, George looked calm and “apparently little concerned.”
- During his trial at the Clarendon County Courthouse in downtown Manning, George was dressed in jeans and a faded blue shirt.
- According to George’s cellmate, Wilford “Johnny” Hunter, once, George told him,
Johnny, when they electrocute me, I’m coming back and I’m gonna haunt you!
- On George’s request, Johnny Hunter also wrote a letter to a preacher in Florida named S.P. Rewell, who, according to George, had helped his brother back when he was in trouble.
- Once, George asked Johnny Hunter,
Johnny, why do they want to kill me for something I didn’t do? Why?
- In a span of just 83 days, the fourteen years old George had been charged with murder, tried, convicted, and executed by the state.