South Carolina executed 14 year old teen!
George Junius Stinney, Jr. was 14 years old whenSouth Carolinaexecuted him, making him the youngest person executed in theU.S.in the 20th century. He was convicted of murdering two girls. Now there’s a move to clear his name. Host Michel Martin speaks with Frank Wu, chancellor and dean of the University of California Hastings College of the Law. Wu has been an outspoken advocate for clearing Stinney’s name.
On April 24, 1944, just one month after his arrest, Stinney went on trial for his life. The trial would take place at the county seat in the City ofManning. Since angry residents already ran the Stinney family out of town, George had virtually no one on his side. The county court appointed a local attorney to assist in his defense. He was a 30-year-old aspiring politician named Charles Plowden. His goal in the case was simple: to provide a bare bones defense that would fulfill his responsibilities as a defense attorney and, at the same time, not anger the local residents. Since Stinney already confessed to the police and his guilt was firmly established, there was a general feeling that a trial was only a formal requirement.
By the time the trial began on April 24 at the Clarendon County Courthouse, the case was well known throughout the region, though outside the county, it was not widely reported. OutsideSouth Carolina, it was virtually unknown. At the courthouse, it was standing room only, for well over 1,500 people had come to witness the spectacle. The stairways and hallways were filled to capacity. At 10 AM that morning, jury selection began. The State, published inColumbia, reported that “the state rejected four and the defense eight jurors before the jury was impounded at 12:30” (Rowe, p. 1). Even more ominous, however, was the jury composite. The panel consisted of 12 white men: no blacks and no women. Of course, racial make-up of a jury does not guarantee nor prevent justice. The only standard, in 1944 as well as now, is that a juror must be able to maintain a degree of fairness and objectivity that displays no bias to either side. Given the publicity of the murders and the nature of the crime, the defense would certainly have been better served by a change of venue. Defense Attorney Charles Plowden, however, made no such motion. After a brief lunch, testimony began. “The trial began at 2:30 PM after eight minor cases had been disposed of in the morning” (The Daily Item, April 25, 1944).
Prosecutor Frank McLeod introduced Stinney’s statements of March 25 into evidence. In his initial statement to Deputy Sheriff Newman, Stinney explained that he was near his own home outside Alcolu when the oldest girl came along and asked him where she could pick some flowers. As he attempted to show the girls where the flowers grew, he said, the younger girl accidentally fell into a ditch. As he tried to help Mary Emma, both girls suddenly attacked him. Stinney admitted to hitting the girls with the railroad spike but claimed he did so in self-defense.
In the second statement, also given to Deputy Newman and Officer Pratt, Stinney gave a different version of the event. He told police he was indeed at his own home when he first saw the girls go by. He stated that he then followed the girls into the woods. Stinney said that he was interested in the older one, Betty June. In order to have Betty June to himself, he killed Mary Emma first by hitting her with the railroad spike. Betty June then attempted to run away and Stinney chased and caught her. When she continued to resist his sexual advances, he battered her with the same railroad spike. The State reported that Judge P. Stoll, who was from Kingstree, just 15 miles from Alcolu, halted the testimony to give women in the courtroom a chance to leave prior to “morbid details” (Rowe, p.1).
Scott Lowden, who found the dead girls, was called to the stand. He testified as to the condition of the bodies when they were found. He described a broken bicycle, which lay over the girls. The bodies were entangled with each other and lay submerged in the water where Stinney had dumped them. Betty June’s sister testified that it was she who gave the scissors to the girls to cut flowers.
The prosecution then called Dr. R. F. Baker to testify. It was Dr. Baker and Dr. A. C. Bozard of theTuomeyHospitalinSumterwho performed the post mortem examination of the dead girls. The autopsy reports were read into testimony: “We examined the body of eleven year old white girl. There was evidence of at least seven blows on the head of the child that seemed to have been made by a blunt instrument with a small round head about the size of a hammer. Some of these have only cracked the skull while two have punched definite holes in the skull” (Dr. Bozard’s autopsy report). Although Dr. Baker was unable to positively state that a rape or sexual assault had occurred, he did say that it was possible (Rowe, p. 1). Stinney, dressed in blue Junes, maintained a calm demeanor throughout the afternoon; “He remained calm and apparently little concerned” (Rowe, p. 1).
The presentation of the case, led by McLeod, moved quickly. Too fast, some say. Plowden and his assistant, attorney J.W. Wireman of Manning, presented no witnesses or evidence for the defense of Stinney. Instead, Plowden attempted to portray Stinney as a child who was too young, by law, to be held responsible for his crimes. In retaliation, the prosecution introduced Stinney’s birth certificate, which indicated he was born on October 21, 1929. UnderSouth Carolinalaw in 1944, an adult was anyone over the age of 14. George Stinney was 14 years and five months old. That was the end of the case. It had begun at 2:30 in the afternoon and was over by 5:30 PM. “The jury retired at five minutes before five to deliberate. Ten minutes later it returned with its verdict: guilty, with no recommendation for mercy” (Brock, sec. D). The entire court proceeding from opening statements to sentencing had taken less than 3 hours. George Stinney “only when asked to arise and be sentenced, did he appear nervous and slightly excited” (Rowe, p.1). Judge Stoll sentenced him to die in the electric chair at Central Correctional Institution inColumbia,South Carolinaon June 16, 1944. Stinney was quickly escorted out of court. He had less than two months to live.
Retrieved from various sources and the pages of America’s dark ages, as recent as 1944!