Horrifying case of boy, 14, executed on death row for crimes he didn’t commit

As miscarriages of justice go, few cases are as harrowing as that of George Stinney Jr.

The African-American boy was 14-years-old when he was accused of murdering two white girls in 1944. A jury took just 10 minutes to find him guilty despite no evidence to link him to the crime.

Two months later he was killed on death row without a chance to say goodbye to his family.

Unconfirmed reports claimed guards had to use a bible or telephone directory as a booster seat because at just 5ft 1ins tall and weighing 6st 7lbs, he was too small for the adult-size seat.

His sisters, Katherine Robinson and Amie Ruffner, along with their brother Charles, spent the next 70 years fiercely fighting for justice and finally, in 2014, a judge overturned George's murder conviction.

A victory of sorts, it could not, however, undo the pain caused by the wrongdoing. The anger for the horrendous miscarriage of justice, rightly, never abated and George's story has continued to horrify people.

George and his family lived in Alcolu, South Carolina, where white and black people were separated by railroad tracks.

The whole town was horrified when in March 1944, two young girls were found dead in a ditch.

Betty June Binnicker, 11 and Mary Emma Thames, seven, had been looking for a flower – the edible maypop, fruit of passionflowers.

The two stopped to ask George and his sister Amie if they knew where they might find them. According to reports, it was the last time the pair were seen alive.

People came out in their hundreds to search for the missing girls, with George Stinney’s father also helping to look for the two.

The day after their disappearance, their bodies were found in a ditch.

Their bodies showed no signs of struggle but both had multiple head injuries. The girls’ deaths were no doubt violent, with one having a hole straight through to her skull and the other showing signs of at least seven blows.

Blame fell straight to George, purely because he had been seen talking to the girls. There was gossip that the girls had also made a stop at a prominent white family’s home but it was never investigated.

Interrogated for hours, with no-one else there, not even his parents, an attorney or a singular witness, Clarendon County law enforcement claimed that George had confessed to the murders.

In a handwritten statement, H.S Newman, an officer who had arrested George, 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.”

Fourteen was considered the age of responsibility and no-one, not even George’s family, knew where the teenager was being held. After his arrest, he saw his family just once.

It was said that the court-appointed attorney Charles Plowden did “little to nothing” to defend George.

No witnesses were called to the stand, no evidence to throw doubt on the case was presented and George's so-called confessed was the only evidence shown.

There was no written record and George stood trial alone with his family too afraid of being attacked by a white mob as they approached the courthouse.

The all-white jury found George guilty in 10 minutes and on April 24, he was sentenced to death.

By June 16, a trembling George was walking to the execution chamber in Columbia, clutching a bible.

Because of his meagre size, there was a struggle to adjust an electrode to his leg and the mask was too big for him.

George told the prison doctor and captain that he had no last words.

It took just 83 days for George to be arrested, tried, sentenced and executed. He was the youngest person to executed in the US in the 20th century.

In 2014, Judge Carmen Mullen ruled George's lawyer called "few or no witnesses," and failed to properly cross-examine his accusers.

It came after his sister Amie, who was eight at the time of George's trial, testified to say he was at home with her on the day of the girls' deaths.

George's sister Katherine said of the overturned conviction: “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.”

The harrowing story was turned into a book by George's nephew David Stout and inspired the 1991 film, Carolina Skeletons.

Today, George is buried in an unmarked grave in Crowley.

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