Monday, July 9, 2012

Double murder of 2 white girls in a small town divided by race and railroad tracks (Videos)

George Stinney, Jr; a copy of his fingerprints 

UPDATE: December 2014: After 70 years George Junis Stinney, Jr has been exonerated for the double murders of two White girls in 1944 in Clarendon Alcolu, South Carolina. 

Judge Carmen Mullen  of Beaufort, vacated the conviction against Stinney on Wesnesday [December 17]. In January, a judge agreed to hear new testimony and arguments in the case. 

Mullen made no finding of whether Stinney was guilty or innocent in the death of two White girls he wass accused of killing in 1944. Segregation and intimidation of African Americans were rummaging across South Carolina, and all African Americans were at the mercy of White people in Clarendon County.

Third Circuit Solicitor Ernest Finney 111,  “ . . . praised Mullen – who took nearly a year to write her 28-page opinion – for “doing a fine job of deliberating over some very novel issues that had to be addressed. As I understand it, this is not an exoneration of the young man, but it is a statement that due process was not complied with in the way it should have been.

"Mullens found numberous errors: Stinney's confession was likely coerced, the all-Whbite jury was not a juryh of his peers and his court appointed lawyer did little or nothing to defend him. There was no appeal of the case. tgoday,. juveniles cannot be executed. Less than two mnths passed between the trial and the executioin." (The State, South Carolina's Homepage) 

UPDATE: On October 25, 2013, a 27 page motion was filed by lawyers to grant George Stinney, Jr. a new trial in hopes of posthumously clearing his name. Steve McKenzie, the lead attorney in the case, said they are confident that they can present enough evidence, so the judge will look at "this from the standards of today and say, 'this was not justice that was served back in 1944,'" said McKenzie.

According to another recent article in the Grio, " . . . the motion also includes two sworn statements from Stinney's two siblings, who say George was with family completing chores at the time of the murders and could not have committed the crime." 
The Grio interviewed Wilford 'Johnny' Hunter, who was jailed for car theft in 1944. He said he was in the cell George Stinney. Hunter said they became friends, and the teenager told him that he did not kill the two girls. 

He said, ''Johnny I I didn't do it. Why would they want to kill me for something I didn't do? For years . . .I used to have dreams," Hunter said, "About [Stinney] and the electric chair."  

A few months ago I watched a true-life 2005 documentary titled The Trials of  Darryl Hunt

The documentary was about a young African American male, 19, born and raised in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Hunt was convicted to raping and murdering Deborah Sykes, 25, in 1984. She was a White woman employed at the Sentinel as a newspaper copy editor. This documentary got my attention, because it reminded me of other similar stories I had read about.

The Sentinel reported that Sykes was stabbed 16 times. She was raped and sodomized on the morning of August 10, 1984. Reportedly, she was on her way to work.

14-year old George Stinney, Jr., is escorted into the death chamber with another Black male as two jailers standby.
 Police did not find any physical evidence connecting Hunt to the crime. Nevertheless, he was convicted by a jury composed of one African American female and 11 Whites. Hunt was sentenced to life in prison, but was eventually freed by DNA evidence. In 2003 Willard E. Brown, an African American, and career criminal, confessed to the rape/murder of Deborah Sykes. DNA evidence confirmed that Brown was the killer. Hunt, who proclaimed his innocence throughout his imprisonment, served 19.5 years in prison. He was awarded 
$1, 650,000 million after filing a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina.

This brief  journey into history is not only about Darryl Hunt. As I said in the first paragraph, his story reminded me of other similar stories. Hunt's story reminded of a baby faced 14-year old boy name George  Stinney, Jr.,  an African American teenager who was born in Alcolu, in Clarendon County, South Carolina, October 21, 1929.

I wish I could write that Stinney’s story was a rarity in 1944, but I cannot. None of these "guilty until guiltiness is further proven" cases were peculiar to the kinfolk of hanged and executed African Americans. Speedy trials and even faster sentences of death have never been rare in Black communities throughout the United States. A White woman could  scream"rape" and most assuredly the accused, regardless of his proclaims of innocence, would be sentenced to death. Kangaroo trials were disguised as actual trials. All White jurors did not pretend to deliberate in jury rooms.

Recently, several authors and journalists have written about the forgotten story of George  Stinney, Jr.; a true tale of  a double murder in a small town. In the articles Alcolu is described as a small, working class town, where Blacks and Whites were separated by railroad tracks and race. Ironically, there is still a railroad tracks separation of Blacks and Whites in states all across America.

At the time Stinney was accused of committing these two brutal murders he was 5'1" tall and weighed between 90 and 95 pounds. When angry eyes zeroed squarely on him, pointing accusatory fingers at the youngster, there was no abject reasoning, or process of elimination among the White citizens in Alcolu. They wanted blood and revenge for the killing of two White girls.

Over the span of 24 hours or less, local police officers arrested 14-year-old Stinney, charging him with brutally killing of Betty June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, 8.  According to limited accounts regarding this tragedy on March 23, 1944, the girls, riding their bicycles, crossed the railroad tracks into the Black community. It's said they were looking for flowers.

George Stinney's brother, Rev. Charles Stinney, in an interview with WEBEALL Radio,  said the police "rounded up several Black boys in the neighborhood." Alcolu police said Stinney used a railroad spike to beat the girls to death. They surmised that he dragged their bodies, along with their bicycles, down to a nearby creek. This murderous rampage occurred in broad daylight. None of Stinney’s neighbors came forward to say they had witnessed the beating deaths. None of his neighbors came forward to say they witnessed Stinney dragging the girls' lifeless bodies down to a nearby creek. Their bodies were found the next day by a White man, who later testified for the prosecution.

Quick (personal) analysis: Stinney was light in weight. Beat the girls to death with railroad spike, then dragged the two dead girls--both dead weight--down to a creek, along with their bicycles. He would have to make at least four trips to the creek without stopping. Surely someone in the neighborhood would have seen him dragging the dead girls to the creek.  A grown man couldn't have pulled this off this bloody feat without someone seeing him.

Weighing only 90 to 95 pounds eliminates the possibility of Stinney being a muscular teenager, physically capable of committing two beating deaths. There was no mention of bloody clothes found in his home. No mention of bloody crime scene. No bloody railroad spike was ever found. No White males in Alcolu were suspected or questioned. It takes strength to beat someone to death. One has to assume that one girl stood still in panic, and watched her friend getting beat to death.

 A story about George Stinney was written in the Grio, September 28, 2011, by Zerlina Maxwell. The headline asked:  Was one of the youngest ever executed innocent?  Maxwell's article drew national attention to the 67 year-old story. According to Maxwell, “George Junis Stinney was even part of the search crew, and told a bystander simply that he had seen the girls earlier that day. This claim was enough probable cause for the South Carolina police to arrest Stinney for the double murder, even though, the idea of him being strong enough to kill not one but two girls is a stretch.

"Despite this fact, the police hauled Stinney into the station for hours of intense interrogation, without the presence of either of his parents. Reports claim the police offered Stinney ice cream if he confessed to them that he committed the double murder. Stinney confessed. There is no written record of his confession in the archives. There is no physical evidence linking Stinney to the murder. There is no paper record of Stinney’s conviction,” writes Maxwell.  “This was South Carolina in 1944, with a Black male defendant, two young White female victims, and an all White, male jury. Stinney never stood a chance.”

Following Stinney’s arrest his family was given an ultimatum: leave town immediately, or stay in Alcolu and face an angry mob. Stinney's father, who worked at Alderman Lumber Mill, was fired and forced out of their rental house owned by the company he worked for. Charles Stinney said they were not given time to pack their personal belongings. They left Alcolu the same evening  Stinney was arrested. They go out of town with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They did not have time to pack any personal belongings. The Stinney family was forced to leave a son and brother behind to face his trial and predictable fate, alone and scared.

Stinney was represented by Charles Plowden, 31, a tax commissioner, who had political ambitions. It is not clear if he was an attorney who worked as tax commissioner. He was appointed by the court to represent Stinney. Plowden did not protest or object to the testimonies of the police officers, all claiming that Stinney freely confessed to the double killings of Binnicker and Thames. No written confession was available to exhibit during the rushed trial. The prosecution called three other witnesses, all White men. Not one of them was cross examined by Plowden. What these three witness testified to is puzzling, given there were no witnesses to the daylight murders of the two girls. What could they testify to?

Young Stinney could not look around the packed courtroom and see a friend. He could not search out the faces of his relatives to send him a comforting smile. He was surrounded by a courtroom of White Alcolu citizens that wanted him found guilty for the crime he was accused of committing. His court appointed lawyer made it easy for the jury to return a guilty verdict.

Prior to the trial a mob of White vigilantes went to the jail where the teenager was being held, intent on lynching him without a trial. Unbeknownst to them, the police had secreted Stinney to another jail 40 miles away in Charleston. In the meanwhile, a speedy trial was in the works. An all-White jury of 12 males was quickly selected. The trial lasted all of two-and-a-half hours. An estimated 1,000 people crowded the small courtroom. It took the jury 10 minutes to find the Stinney guilty. Fourteen year old George Stinney, Jr. was sentenced to die in the electric chair. To date, he is the youngest person to be “legally” executed in the United States.

Author David Stout wrote in his book Carolina Skeletons, “After a lunch break the case was heard before Judge Stoll. Plowden did not cross-examine any of the prosecuting witnesses. His defense consisted of claiming that Stinney was too young by law to be held responsible for the crimes. In response, the prosecution presented Stinney's birth certificate stating that he was born on October 21, 1959, which made him 14 years and five months old. Under South Carolina law in 1944 an adult was anyone over the age of 14.”

Stout further wrote about the execution (he was not an eyewitness): “June 16, 1944. At 7:30 p.m., George Stinney, Jr. was fitted into the electric chair. It had been designed for grown men, not children. He was five feet, one inch tall and weighed ninety pounds. The guards had a hard time strapping him into the seat. The mask over his face did not fit properly. When the switch was thrown, the force of the electricity jerked the too-large mask from his face and for the final four minutes of his life, the spectators in the gallery had a full view of Stinney's horrified face as he was executed.

"Stinney's sister, Katherine Stinney Robinson, was interviewed on the fiftieth anniversary of her brother's execution and said, 'He was like my idol, you know. He was very smart in school, very artistic. He could draw all kinds of things. We had a good family. Small house, but there was a lot of love. It took my mother a long time to get over it. And maybe she never got over it,'” Stout wrote.

Charles Stinney, George's brother, said when their mother saw her son after the execution,  she said, "They didn't have to burn him up like that." Stinney was buried in an unmarked grave in South Carolina. Charles said he have never gone back to visit the grave site.

Currently, there is an effort underway to clear Stinney’s name. Supporters of the effort want the state of South Carolina to confess and admit that officials executed the wrong person for the double killings. Charles Stinney said the NAACP attempted to  get the execution stopped to no avail. They even called on President Franklin Roosevelt for help but they did not hear from him.

Today, Attorney Steve McKenzie is spearheading the effort to get justice for the 14-year-old boy. writes that McKenzie said, "As an attorney, it just kind of haunted me, just the way the judicial system worked to this boy's disadvantage or disfavor. It did not protect him." McKenzie is preparing whatever documentation is necessary to ask that the case  reopened.

Zerlina Maxwell of Grio, reported that McKenzie said Stinney was suspected simply because he said he saw the girls earlier in the day. "[Stinney] was a convenient target,” says McKenzie, but the challenge now is ”[h]ow do you exonerate somebody where there is absolutely no evidence one way or the other? There was only a coerced confession. The confession was never written. [It was an] oral confession testified to two White officers and told to an all White male jury.” 

5 minute clip from the movie titled Too Young to Die: the Execution of 
 George Stinney,  starring Lou Gossett, Jr., and Bruce Dern. (YouTube Videos)

An interview conducted by WEBEALL Radio, with Rev. Charles Stinney, 
George Stinney's brother, recalls what happened that tragic day that altered their lives.

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