Instead, his birthday will serve as a haunting reminder of why the death penalty needs to be abolished.
When two White girls, 11-year-old Betty June Binnicker and 8-year-old Mary Emma Thames, went missing in Alcolu, S.C., on March 22, 1944, after riding in to town on their bicycles, Stinney was arrested the following day for allegedly murdering them.
The girls had allegedly passed Stinney’s home, where they asked him where they could find a particular kind of flower. Once the girls did not return home, hundreds of volunteers looked for them until their bodies were found the next morning in a ditch.
Because Stinney joined the search team and shared with another volunteer that he had spoken to the girls before they disappeared, he was arrested for their murders.
Without his parents, Stinney was interrogated by several White officers for hours. A deputy eventually emerged announcing that Stinney had confessed to the girls’ murders. The young boy allegedly told the deputies that he wanted to have sex with the 11-year-old girl, but had to kill the younger one to do it. When the 8-year-old supposedly refused to leave, he allegedly killed both of them because they refused his sexual advances.
To coerce his confession, deputies reportedly offered the child an ice cream cone.
There is no record of a confession. No physical evidence that he committed the crime exists. His trial — if you want to call it that — lasted less than two hours. No witnesses were called. No defense evidence was presented. And the all-White jury deliberated for all of 10 minutes before sentencing him to death.
On June 16, 1944, his frail, 5-foot-1, 95-pound body was strapped in to an electric chair at a state correctional facility in Columbia, S.C. Dictionaries had to be stacked on the seat of the chair so that he could properly sit in the seat. But even that didn’t help. When the first jolts of electricity hit him, the head mask reportedly slipped off, revealing the agony on his face and the tears streaming down his cheeks. Only after several more jolts of electricity did the boy die.
It was, without question, one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in U.S. history. Yet, decades later, 33 states in the United States still practice this barbaric form of so-called justice. And the way it has been applied to our community has been especially unjust — and discriminatory.
Since 1973, almost 30 years after Stinney’s execution, 141 people in 26 states have been exonerated from death row after new evidence cleared them of wrongdoing, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty, told NewsOne in an interview that Stinney’s upcoming birthday should remind us all that a flawed method of administering justice for the victim is not just if it clearly targets a particular group of people.
“If we don’t care whether or not race is influencing these cases, how are we going to make the system care if it turns out that our children are not getting the education they need or we’re not getting a fair shake in mortgages?” Rust-Tierney asked. “That is what this is about.”
Her Washington, D.C.-based organization played a pivotal role in helping to abolish the death penalty for juveniles in the United States with its 1997 “Stop Killing Kids Campaign” that lead to South Dakota and Wyoming banning the practice for offenders under the age of 18. The U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the practice against juveniles in 2005.
Before the High Court’s ruling, however, 71 juveniles were on death row. Two-thirds of them where offenders of color, and more than two-thirds of their victims were white.
“For people of color, the criminal justice system has been designed to be about us and around us but never with us,” Rust-Tierney said.
It certainly wasn’t with Stinney when his court-appointed attorney didn’t even care to call witnesses or provide evidence in his defense. And the justice system certainly wasn’t with his parents when a lynch mob ran them out of town, leaving their son in that South Carolina courtroom to face his fate all by himself.
Read more about this tragic injustice on our sister site News One