14 Year Old Executed in USA May Have been Innocent

Photo: George Stinney JrIn 1944, George Junius Stinney Jr was just fourteen years old, when he became the youngest person ever to be executed on the electric chair. Activists have questioned the validity of the sentence for decades, but now South Carolina attorney Steve McKenzie has asked Claredon County Attorney General Ernest Finney to reopen the file.

Mr McKenzie cited no physical evidence linking the boy to the murder of two young girls, a coerced confession and a fundamentally flawed trial. The case is igniting another fierce debate over the use of the death penalty in America.

Ending Child Executions in America

Mr McKenzie told the Grio that he is not seeking an end to the death penalty per se - he believes that it is warranted in some cases - but that 'juveniles should never be executed'. As well as looking to rectify a miscarriage of justice, this is the issue which he hopes that the George Stinney Jr case will highlight.

America led the world in child executions until 2005, when the Supreme Court ruled, in Roper v Simmons, that public opinion had shifted against it and therefore it was unconstitutional under the 8th Amendment. The USA's previous unwillingness to give up the right to execute juveniles has compromised their international rights. For example, only the USA and Somalia have not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which brought censure from the High Commissioner in October 2010. The Convention outlaws the death penalty for minors.

Amnesty International reported that, between 1994-2003, twenty children were killed after being sentenced to death in a courtroom. Twelve were executed in the USA, while the remainder were in Barbados, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Yemen, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Some activists have seized upon the sudden publicity of the George Stinney Jr story to push for the complete abolition of the death penalty. Others simply want this particular case to be re-examined.

Media Spotlight on Clearing George Stinney Jr's Name

There has been a lot of recent media interest in the story of George Stinney Jr. CNN interviewed Columbia University's Professor Marc Lamont Hill to explain why a pardon should be posthumously issued. He also spoke on MSNBC. Prof Hill compared the case to that of Troy Davis to show اخبار اليمن that the checks and balances of the American justice system are still failing people on Death Row.

Asked why the file on George Stinney Jr should be reopened now, Prof Hill replied, "There can be no complete justice because a young man was deprived of a full life, but what we can do is clear the historical record number one; and number two, we can continue to put a spotlight on a criminal justice system committed to executing its citizens."

It is also being reported internationally. For example, Britain's Daily Mail ran it under the headline, 'Was the youngest person to be executed in the U.S. for the murder of two white girls innocent?' There has been a groundswell of public support for this motion. Social networking sites have been used to raise awareness, including Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter.

George Stinney Jr's Arrest and Trial Were Flawed

George was allowed no legal counsel during questioning. His parents were not only refused access to him, after he was arrested, but were advised to leave South Carolina. His confession was not written down, but took place in a locked room with just the child and police officers present.

A tax commissioner stood in as George's lawyer; and he did not defend him nor cross-examine eye-witnesses. He merely asked for the boy's age to be taken into account when sentencing. The whole trial lasted just three hours, with the jury taking only ten minutes to declare him guilty. (One of the members of the jury was a family member of another suspect.)

Afterwards, George's lawyer did not file for an appeal. He didn't even advise the child that he could do so. Eighty days after the murder of two girls, George Stinney Jr was executed on the state's electric chair.

Lorraine Bailey, the elder sister of one of the murder victims, recalled, "Everybody knew that he doneeven before they had the trial they knew he done it. But, I don't think they had too much of a trial."

The Emotional and Socio-Political Impact of George Stinney Jr's Execution

Beyond the legal challenges to the case, there is also an obvious emotional hook, which activists are highlighting.

Joy James described George's execution, in States of Confinement: Policing, Detection and Prisons (MacMillan, 2000). After establishing that George was small for his age, she wrote, 'Stinney was so slight that the guards had difficulty strapping him into the chair and attaching electrodes to his اخبار اليمن leg. A mask was placed over his face, but after the first jolt of 2,400 volts, the mask slipped off, revealing his wide-open, tearful eyes and saliva coming from his mouth. The next two surges of electricity ended his young life.'

Others have noted the racial aspect of the case. George was an African-American boy, while the two victims were young, white girls. A lynch mob had formed outside the police station, into which George had been literally carried for questioning. The crowd demanded that he be handed over to them. The jury was all white and no-one of George's own ethnicity was allowed in the courtroom, except for himself. @AntBlacc is amongst many people claiming that George's execution was a judicial lynching.

Frank Wu, chancellor and dean of the University of California Hastings College of the Law, also suggested that the execution had been racially motivated. In an interview with NPR, he implied that George's death had more to do with the Jim Crow Laws, current at the time, than justice for the two murdered girls.

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