In 1944 in Alcolu, South Carolina, a then-14-year-old George Stinney Jr. was outside tending to his family's cows with his sister Amie. The siblings were then approached by 11-year-old Betty June Binnicker, and 8-year-old Mary Emma Thames—both White—who asked where they could find a wildflower in the area. The next day, the two girls bodies were found in a ditch, and Stinney was arrested and later convicted of first-degree murder. Investigators claimed that Stinney admitted to the murders, although his confession and other evidence in the case was reportedly lost. Stinney’s family was given the choice to leave South Carolina, or be lynched.
During the trial, the all-White jury deliberated for just ten minutes before reaching a guilty verdict. Court documents read that Stinney was to "be electrocuted, until your body be dead in accordance with law. And may God have mercy on your soul.” On the day of his execution, he walked to the electric chair with a Bible under his hand, which was used to boost his 90-pound body in the chair. He is the youngest person in American history to be executed in the 20th century.
Recently, there has been a push for the case to be reopened, as the family desires to clear his name and prove that he was innocent. Stinney’s lawyers argue that the boy was coerced into confession, and that his sister, Amie Ruffner, who was with him at the time, is an alibi to prove his innocence. The two-day court hearing ended Jan. 22, and the judge is deciding on whether or not Finney was given a fair trial. “The police were looking for someone to blame it on, so they used my brother as a scapegoat," Ruffner told CNN. The families of the two murdered girls have testified in court, and believe that the case should not be reopened.
A film based on Stinney’s case, called 83 Days: The Murder of George Stinney Jr., is currently in pre-production. The producer of the film, Ray Brown, believes that part of the reason the trial is being reexamined is because of the evidence his team was able to dig up in his research for the film. Brown gained access to the girls’ autopsies, and claims that what he found stands in contradiction to then-Governor Olin Johnson's words at the time of Stinney’s execution. These contradictions include Johnson's claim that the young girls were raped, even though the autopsy report shows no sign of sexual assault. The autopsy report also lists a hammer as the murder weapon, though it was reported to the public during the trial that a railroad spike was used.
“These inconsistencies show a rush to judgment in my opinion, as well as the very possibility of conspiracy against this young man and his family. This is further exacerbated, by the fact that there are the members of the inquest jury, some that (though they will remain nameless) have clear Klan affiliation and the fact that no record of theactual trial jurors has yet to be found,” said Brown.
Brown hopes that his film, 83 Days, like the trial, will cause all people to reexamine their individual histories and pain. “My prayer in telling this young man's story is that it is not looked upon as yet another story of oppression from an African-American prospective, but, that like Trayvon, Jordan, and others, we will see that the pattern of injustice didn't start with them. More importantly, if we sit down and do nothing, it will not end with them either. But, we cannot stand until we understand.”