June 16, 1944
Columbia, South Carolina
George Stinney Jr. is executed by electrocution at the age of 14, becoming the youngest executed criminal in the 20th Century in the United States
Stinney was convicted of the deaths of two girls, ages 8 and 11. The girls had been beaten to death with a piece of metal or a railroad spike, their skulls punctured. Neither had been sexually assaulted.
As the girls, both of whom were white, had been found in the “black part of town” (the town of Alcolu, South Carolina had been segregated with railroad tracks creating a border), police immediately began questioning black residents. Stinney and his stepbrother Johnny were arrested, but Johnny was released. Stinney had been known around the town as a bully and had threatened to kill a young girl the day before the murders.
Stinney was not permitted to see his parents from the time he was arrested until after his conviction. He confessed the killings to a police officer, but no written statement or signed confession was taken. His parents and attorneys were not present during his confession.
During the trial, two witnesses testified to what Stinney confessed to them, but the accounts differed; in one version the girls attacked him first and he killed the two in self-defense, in the other he had followed the girls and attacked them unprovoked. Stinney’s attorney did not cross-examine witnesses and did not call any witnesses of his own.
The entire trial process, from juror selection to conviction, took 7 hours. The all-white jury took only 10 minutes to find the child guilty. Over 1,000 people crowded the courtroom to watch the trial, but black spectators were not allowed in the building. Additionally, no transcript of the trial was made.
Stinney’s parents and the NAACP petitioned the Governor for an appeal based on his young age. Their petition was denied and they were told “It may be interesting for you to know that Stinney killed the smaller girl to rape the larger one. Then he killed the larger girl and raped her dead body. Twenty minutes later he returned and attempted to rape her again, but her body was too cold. All of this he admitted himself.” The medical examination of the girls’ bodies disproved this allegation completely, but appeals were ignored.
Stinney was executed 83 days after the murder.
In 2013, activists and lawyers petitioned to reopen the case on behalf of the Stinney’s family. In 2014, 70 years after his execution, Stinney’s conviction was vacated (legally declared void) due to a violation of Stinney’s Sixth Amendment rights. The judge who vacated the conviction noted the possibility that Stinney had been guilty, but there was no physical evidence against him and his defense was virtually non-existent, creating an extremely unfair trial.
At the age of 14, Stinney was the youngest person in the 20th century to be legally executed in the United States. The youngest ever legally executed in the United States was a 12-year-old girl named Hannah Ocuish. She was hanged on December 20, 1786 for murdering a 6-year-old after the two argued over strawberries.