The youngest American to be sentenced to death and executed was an African American named George Stinney Jr. He was convicted at the age of 14, in an unfair trial of the murder of two girls in 1944. George Stinney lived with his parents in Alcolu, a small town is South Carolina that was inhabited by whites and blacks with railroad tracks separating the two neighbourhoods.
On the 23rd of March 1944, the bodies of two white girls, Betty June, 11, and Mary Emma, 7, were found on the ‘black side’ of Alcolu. The two girls had stopped by to ask Stinney and his younger sister if they knew where to find passion flowers. When the Police learned from a witness that the two girls were last seen talking to George Stinney, they went to his home and arrested the young boy. He was whisked away to the Sumter County Jail where he was interrogated alone for hours without his parents or an attorney. He was not allowed to see his parents until after his trial and conviction.
A mere 31 days after his arrest, Stinney’s trial began at the Clarendon County courtroom where an all-white jury appointed a tax commissioner, Charles Plowden the defense counsel. Plowden did little or nothing to defend his client; he failed to call any witnesses to the stand or present any evidence that would cast doubt on the prosecution’s case. In fact, the only piece of evidence against Stinney was his alleged confession but there was no written record of the boy admitting to the murders and the defense counsel didn’t bother to question that.
The jury of white men took just 10 minutes to deliberate, after which they returned with a guilty verdict. Judge Phillip H. Stoll sentenced Stinney to death by the electric chair. There’s no transcript of the trial and the court refused to hear his appeal.
On the day of his execution, George Stinney walked into the execution chamber at the South Carolina Penitentiary with a Bible under his arm. Stinney was so small that he was made to sit on his Bible in order to fit properly into the electric chair. A face-mask that was too big for him was placed over his face.
As Stinney was hit with the first 2,400-volt surge of electricity, the mask covering his face slipped off. His eyes were wide and teary, and saliva was emanating from his mouth for all the witnesses in the execution room to see. After two more jolts of electricity, it was over for Stinney. The 14 year old boy was pronounced dead at 7:30pm, 4 minutes after the execution began and 83 days after the murders.
70 years later, the case was reopened and Stinney was declared innocent. Judge Carmen T. Mullen overturned Stinney’s first-degree murder conviction stating that his sentencing was cruel and unusual.
George Stinney Jr. would have been 90 years old this year if the jury had given him justice.