Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Murder of George Stinney.

News broke just a few hours ago that George J. Stinney, Jr., a fourteen year old boy executed by South Carolina in 1944, has posthumously had his first degree murder conviction overturned. Obviously, this judgment is too little, too late; Stinney was the youngest person executed in the United States during the Twentieth Century. Yet, at the very least, his name is cleared. At the same time, the State of South Carolina has finally acknowledged the gross error it made in murdering a child.

The mugshot of George Stinney.

The circumstances surrounding Stinney's conviction have always been suspicious, to the point of being farcical. Unfortunately, few records exist that document his trial fairly.

Stinney was charged with the murders of Betty Binnicker (age 11) and Mary Thames (age 8) on March 23, 1944. The two girls, both Caucasian-American, had been out searching for wildflowers in the town of Alcolu. George Stinney and his sister Katherine, both African-American and fellow residents, happened to speak to the two girls while on their journey. The girls asked George and Katherine if they knew where any wildflowers were growing. That was the last time the two young girls were ever heard from.

The next morning, Betty and Mary were found dead in a ditch with their heads crushed.

During the search for the two girls, George and Katherine volunteered the information about their encounter to local police. Instead of using this information to continue their investigation, the police immediately apprehended and charged George Stinney with the murder of Mary and Betty. George was kept isolated from his family, whom were promptly run out of town with the threat of being lynched. Because no lawyer would represent him, George was provided a court appointed attorney (a local tax commissioner seeking election). The entire process of selecting a jury (which happened to be twelve Caucasian men), presenting evidence (to which the prosecution had none), finding George guilty (which took an astonishing ten minutes) and delivering his sentence (which would be death by electric chair) took only one day.

The prosecution put three Caucasian police officers on the stand whom said George Stinney confessed to the murders. Though, they had no written record of such a confession. When asked during the trial, Stinney said clearly that he had not confessed. The prosecution produced no other evidence against George during the trial. Stinney's court appointed representation did not object to the three officers' testimony, nor did he object to the lack of physical evidence against his client. By the end of the day, Stinney was convicted and sentenced to death.

Just a few months later on June 16, George Stinney was executed via the electric chair. George was so small in stature, he had to sit on a bible in order for the chair apparatus to attach to him. The buckles attaching to his limbs and the mask placed on his face were all too big. During the first jolt of electricity sent into his body, the face mask came off and his left arm flopped around violently. Witnesses to the execution later claimed in interviews that the sight of George's face during the electrocution was gut-churning. He cried until his body went limp.

Four minutes later, the poor fellow was dead.

I'll put it to you bluntly. 

George Stinney, a child with no reason to be suspected of such a heinous crime, was murdered. The saddest part? Motivated by racists and bigots, the State of South Carolina sponsored one of the greatest crimes against humanity this nation has ever seen. They murdered an innocent child all in the name of racism.

I can't imagine what was going through George's mind as he sat down in the electric chair. The terror of knowing your death was just minutes away, all funneled through the mind of a fourteen year old boy... it's simply beyond words. George took his unwarranted punishment with bravery not found in men many years his senior.

George died like a man.

Whenever I think of George Stinney, I'm reminded of how important the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution are. We are all due the right to a fair and public trial. To preserve the rights of the innocent, we must also preserve the rights of the guilty. Our Constitution acts as a shield to those whom would perpetatrate terror against the innocent. In this case, the Constitution failed him. His fellow citizens failed him. The State of South Carolina failed him.

Mary and Betty were failed, too. Instead of finding their actual killer, the State pushed an innocent boy into the jaws of death as a scapegoat.

Leap ahead to present day. Take a look at yourself. Analyze your own beliefs and actions.

Are you still failing George Stinney?

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