At 14 years, 5’1”, and just barely 90 pounds, George Stinney was the youngest prisoner to be executed in the twentieth century. On the heels of the execution of Troy Davis last week, Stinney’s story is seeing an emotional revival and being used to analyze the system of capital punishment that we continue to enforce.
On March 23, 1944, Betty June Binnicker, age 11, and Mary Emma Thames, age 8, two white girls living in Alcolu, South Carolina, disappeared after riding their bicycles together. Binnicker and Thames eventually passed the Stinney property, and asked George and his younger sister, Katherine, if the children knew where to find a certain type of flower. This exchange, however brief or even actual it may have been, is the reason that George Stinney was unjustly executed just eighty-one days later.
A search party was conducted to find the girls, whose bodies were discovered in a muddy ditch with severe head wounds. A nearby railroad spike was believed to be the murder weapon in the crime, and law enforcement authorities arrested 14-year-old George Stinney.
Taken into a police interrogation room with no witnesses besides the white police officers who were questioning him, Stinney was interrogated for less than an hour before a police officer emerged from the room and claimed that Stinney had confessed. The officer said that Stinney had explained the motive behind the brutal murders: he wanted to “have sex with” Betty June, but couldn’t do so without first killing Mary Emma.
The story, already relatively implausible, takes an even more improbable turn when one considers the state of Mary Emma and Betty June’s skulls when found: smashed into 4 and 5 pieces each, the skulls were incredibly battered.
It is incredibly hard to believe that a 90-pound boy — whose face and frame were so small that the mask worn during execution slipped off, revealing his horrible, pained expression — was able to viciously murder and then smash the skulls of two girls who were only a few pounds lighter than he. Even still, he was tried, and within eighty-one days, sentenced to death. Stinney’s gruesome end made him the youngest prisoner to be executed in the twentieth century, as well as the subject of national debate regarding the validity of his guilt, and any method there may be to prove or disprove his innocence.