How many of the 1507 people executed since 1976 in the US may have been innocent? Courts rarely entertain the claims of innocence in cases when the defendant has died, as defense attorneys have to take on cases where their clients’ lives can yet be saved. The judicial review awarded to US death-penalty cases is inadequate to stop the execution of some prisoners, wrongly convicted and sentenced to death. Some cases with strong evidence of innocence, haunt us.
George Stinney Jr., was the youngest to be executed in the USA when he was condemned to the electric chair in 1944, but 70 years after his death, his conviction was overturned.
Shocking cases of Miscarriage of Justice
The black boy, aged only 14, was sentenced to the electric chair (death) for the horrific murder of 2 small white girls at a South Carolina segregated mill town, in a trial of less than three hours without any evidence and witness testimonies. Circuit Judge Carmen Mullen commented about the speed with which the state meted out injustice against the boy, which was shocking and very unfair. Her ruling exonerated George.
He was kept away from his parents or any legal counsel while being interrogated and questioned by authorities, and his well-wishers claim that the tiny, frail-looking boy was so frightened that he would gladly say whatever would please the police, despite no physical evidence linking him to the brutal murder of the girls.
Jim Crow Justice
George and his sibling, Amie Ruffner, are said to be the last to see the victims, aged 7 and 11, alive when they were in the town of Alcolu, in a field nearby. Stinney’s father even helped by being on the search team that found the girls’ bodies hours later in a ditch, beaten up badly with their skulls crushed. Stinney Jr., was swiftly arrested and executed within three months. Executioners noted that Stinney was too little for the electric chair and it’s straps didn’t even fit properly, with the electrode too big for his leg, and the boy sat on a bible to fit into the chair. His case was an example of a black person failed by the US justice system during the time of Jim Crow laws of segregation where the juries, investigators and prosecutors were all white. The boy’s family insisted about his innocent, and in January 2019, they requested a local judge to order a re-trial to clear Stinney’s name, claiming new evidence about the crime.
This time the case was given a full two-day hearing with experts questioning the autopsy findings and his confession, while the judge heard the testimonies from George’s other siblings, and others who helped in the search. Most of the evidence from the original trial was gone and most witnesses, dead. Judge Mullen took four times as long to deliver her decision on Stinney’s case than it originally took to arrest and execute him in 1944, and her ruling confirmed that there was great injustice done in the boy’s case. She found that in Stinney’s confession, it was highly likely that he was coerced by the authorities, since there were no witnesses who testified in the trial. The judge said that Stinney’s conviction was being overturned because the earlier South Carolina court did not conduct a fair trial back in 1944.