Two young white girls had been found brutally murdered, beaten over the head with a railroad spike and dumped in a water-logged ditch. Geoge and his little sister, who were black, were said to be the last ones to see them alive. Authorities later released the older Stinney, and directed their attention toward George.
“The police were looking for someone to blame it on, so they used my brother as a scapegoat,” his sister Amie Ruffner said earlier this year.
On June 16, 1944, he was executed, becoming the youngest person in modern times to be put to death. Almost 70 years later he was exonerated.
Stinney’s case has tormented civil rights advocates for years.
He was questioned in a small room, alone – without his parents, without an attorney. (Gideon vs. Wainwright, the landmark Supreme Court case guaranteeing the right to counsel, wouldn’t be decided until 1963.) Police claimed the boy confessed to killing Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, 8, admitting he wanted to have sex with Betty. They rushed him to trial and railroaded him.
After a two-hour trial and a 10-minute jury deliberation, Stinney was convicted of murder on April 24 and sentenced to die by electrocution, according to a book by Mark R. Jones. At the time, 14 was the age of criminal responsibility. His lawyer, a local political figure, chose not to appeal.
Stinney’s initial trial, the evidence, or lack of it, and the speed with which he was convicted seemed to illustrate how a young black boy was railroaded by an all-white justice system. During the one-day trial, the defense called few or no witnesses. There was no written record of a confession. Today, most people who could testify are dead and most evidence is long gone.
New facts in the case prompted Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen to vacate his conviction almost a century after Stinney’s execution.
“I can think of no greater injustice than the violation of one’s Constitutional rights which has been proven to me in this case,” Mullen wrote.