In a few days, on June 16th, it will have been 76 years since George Stinney Jr. was murdered at the hands of the state and the racist people of Alcolu, South Carolina.
He was 14 years old at the time.
His story has inspired several works of fiction, including The Green Mile, but I am sorry to say I did not know it until yesterday morning when my husband sent me a link from Unapologetic Podcast that stopped me in my tracks.
After reading this story, I had to know more about George and what happened to him and the horrors he and his family faced. I also read and learned more about capital punishment and race and the broader picture in the present day.
The story of this precious child is that he was charged with the murder of two white girls, an 11 year old and a 7 year old in 1944. These girls had been riding their bicycles, looking for flowers and asked George and his sister where they could find a certain flower before they were murdered and their bodies later discovered not far from the Stinney family’s home.
In fact, George’s sister told police he was with her when the murders took place – but was never called to testify on his behalf. No one was. His attorney called no witnesses and cross-examined no one. He was convicted based only a coerced confession – he confessed after having been starved and only given food if he would admit to the crime. His cellmate later said he maintained his innocence until the end.
He only was allowed to see his parents briefly once before he died. They were run out of the town they lived in and threatened with lynching if they went to his trial or contacted him.
His trial lasted only two hours and the all white jury convicted him in ten minutes.
He was the youngest person to be executed in the 20th century.
His Bible had to be used as a booster seat to fit him into the electric chair.
He was exonerated 70 years later with the judge saying that he was not given an adequate defense, that executing a 14 year child constituted cruel and unusual punishment, and that his trial should have been moved as the town was inflamed over the deaths of the girls so a fair trial was not possible.
What happened to this child was just heartbreaking, evil, and so so devastatingly wrong.
Modern Capital Punishment
After reading many articles about George’s life and his case, as well as his tragic death, I was, of course, outraged and just sick and so sad for him as well.
I began looking into the modern statistics regarding capital punishment – and its disparities.
One site where I was able to find a great deal of information – and that I would encourage everyone to look over is deathpenaltyinfo.org.
There is so much to be learned from this site but a few facts I would call to your attention:
- In 96% of the states where racial issues have been studied in relation to the death penalty, there has either been race-of-defendant or race-of-victim discrimination – or sometimes both.
- With persons who were executed for interracial murders, 295 African Americans were executed where there was a white victim; 21 white defendants were executed where there was an African American victim.
- More than 165 people have been released from death row since 1973 with proof of their innocence.
- Some of those released from death row have served nearly 40 years prior to being exonerated.
- Between 1890 and 2010, an estimated 3% of executions were botched. On the site, there is a page devoted to this topic. I did read the cases – and it disturbed me terribly. I am not going to share any specifics here but I will say that even the idea that this continues to happen at the hands of the state is just horrifying.
These issues stand out apart from the debate of whether the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment in and of itself.
There are so many problems with this system.
Reconsidering My Own Feelings
Prior to learning all of this, I always felt there were some cases that did call for the death penalty.
For example, not too long ago I wrote about the Watts case in Colorado, in which Chris Watts murdered his pregnant wife, Shanann, and their two small children, Bella and Celeste, to be with his mistress. I felt that the death penalty would have been appropriate in that case – though it was not handed down at the request of Shanann’s family.
And the day before I began researching for this post, the bodies of Tylee Ryan and J.J. Vallow, the missing children of Lori Vallow were found – on the property of her husband. They have been missing since last September and it is likely that they died at the hands of their mother.
It is so difficult from an emotional standpoint to not call for capital murder charges in this case – because how COULD she?
Still, having learned so much more about capital punishment and its horrible failures, the state should not execute anyone. Life sentences – without the possibility of parole – are appropriate in these situations instead.
It is not the place of any person – or any government – to take a life.
That is up to God alone.
And knowing what I know now, I will speak out against capital punishment whenever I can. It IS cruel and unusual. It IS often mishandled. There ARE many things than can go wrong or be overlooked.
I’ll also reminded everyone of a boy named George Stinney Jr. ❤
Be well, everybody. Take care of yourselves and each other.
Grace and Blessings.