George Junius Stinney Jr. was 14 years old when he was put to death by the electric chair for the murders of Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, 8, in Alcolu, South Carolina, but seven decades later, his murder conviction was overturned.
On March 24, 1944, Betty and her friend, Mary, left their homes on their bicycles and rode through the small town, searching for wildflowers.
According to STMU History Media, the girls stopped by George’s home. He was grazing the family’s cow when they asked him where they could find flowers.
When Betty and Mary failed to return home, they were reported missing, which prompted a late-night search.
The following morning, Betty and Mary were found dead. Their bodies were discovered partially submerged in a cruddy drainage ditch with their bikes on top of them.
An autopsy showed that Betty and Mary were bludgeoned to death with a hammer-like object, which left their skulls severely smashed, according to the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
The medical examiner noted that there were no other bruises on the girls’ bodies, and there weren’t any signs of sexual assault, as their hymens were still intact.
George became the primary suspect in the case after a witness told investigators that he said he was the last person to see the girls alive.
When George was arrested on suspicion of murder, the lumber mill where his father worked had forced his family to move out of company housing.
His family left town to avoid being lynched, leaving George to deal with his charges, trial, and execution alone. The next time they saw him, he was lying dead in a coffin with his face severely burned.
During police interrogation, it was alleged that George confessed to murdering Betty and Mary and gave graphic details of how the murder was executed.
He told investigators that he was smitten with Betty and wanted to have sexual intercourse with her, but he somehow needed to get rid of her friend.
When he decided to kill her, the girls fought back. During the scuffle, he beat them to death with a 15-inch railroad spike.
There is no proof that George admitted to the killings, as investigators at the time did not provide a written statement or audio of his confession.
On April 24, 1944, George’s trial began at the Clarendon County Courthouse, where more than 1,000 people were in attendance, including his then-30-year-old court-appointed attorney, Charles Plowden, who did very little to defend his client.
Plowden failed to cross-examine any witnesses, and his only defense was that George was too young to be held accountable for the murders of Betty June Binnicker and Mary Emma Thames.
Although there was no evidence linking George to the crimes, an all-white jury deliberated for 10 minutes before returning with a guilty verdict, just three hours after the trial commenced, according to NBC News.
Plowden told the court that they would not appeal the conviction, as George’s family didn’t have the means to continue.
That same day, George was sentenced to death by an electric chair.
On June 16, 1944, officers at the Central Correctional Institution in Columbia led George into the execution chamber.
He had a bible in his hand.
He weighed 95 pounds at the time, which made it difficult for officers to strap him to the adult-size electric chair.
When he was finally secured, they placed a large mask over his face.
After flipping the switch, 2,400 volts of electricity passed through George’s body, causing his mask to fall off.
When his face was exposed, witnesses could see that the wide-eyed teen had tears rolling down his cheeks and saliva around the corners of his mouth.
The Post and Courier reported that the switch was flipped again, sending a shot of 1400 volts, followed by 500 volts. Three minutes and 45 seconds later, George was dead.
His time of death was 7:30 p.m.
George was buried at the Calvary Baptist Church Cemetery in Clarendon, South Carolina.
Relatives have stated that Goerge was innocent of the crimes, and their attorney has demanded a new trial as they believe his confession was coerced, CNN reported.
“We think we have the opportunity here to make a difference and correct a wrong that’s been there for 70 years,” said defense attorney Matt Burgess.
“South Carolina still recognizes George Stinney as a murderer. We felt that something needed to be done about that.”
“The fact of the matter is, it happened, and it occurred because of a legal system of justice that was in place and that, we – for all we know, based on the record, it worked properly.”
On Dec. 17, 2014, 70 years after George was put to death by the electric chair, Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen overturned his murder conviction.
In a 29-page order, the judge wrote: “Given the particularized circumstances of George’s case, I find by a preponderance of the evidence standard, that a violation of the defendant’s procedural due process rights tainted his prosecution.”
Defense attorney Steven McKenzie said, “By not putting the state’s case to the test at all, by not cross-examining witnesses, not putting up a defense at all, not giving a closing argument, George was never afforded effective counsel and, as a result, his Sixth Amendment rights were violated.”