To George Stinney Jr.’s remaining family and neighbors, the young boy was a quiet, straight-A student who enjoyed drawing, reading and introspection.
In 1944, he would become known to Alcolu and Clarendon County residents as a cold-blooded murderer who bludgeoned two young girls to death with a railroad spike. His family has always challenged his conviction, which took an all-white jury only 10 minutes to decide in the summer of 1944. Sixty-nine years later, Stinney is mostly remembered as one of the youngest defendants executed in American history and the youngest executed in the 20th century.
“The Stinney family is still very much alive, though, and there are thousands of us throughout the United States,” said Irene Hill, Stinney’s second cousin. She and other family members joined friends and supporters of efforts to have the boy’s name cleared posthumously on Saturday at Green Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Alcolu. The church is not far from where the young boy played with his sister, Aime, the day two young white girls, June Binnicker, 11, and Mary Emma Thames, 8, disappeared on Friday, March 24, 1944.
Aime L. Stinney told The Item in 2009 that she and her brother did indeed interact with the two slain girls shortly before they disappeared. The girls’ bodies were found the next morning underwater in a creek. Stinney was in police custody by midday Saturday and was ultimately housed in a Columbia jail because of fears of a lynch mob in Clarendon County.
“His family is still thriving, but his soul is not at rest,” Hill said. “It has been 69 years now, and there still is no justice. There has been no justice for George, nor for those two young girls, because we know that he is innocent.”
The case has occupied much of George Frierson’s time since he first learned of it about eight years ago. The Clarendon School District 3 board member and community activist carries around a binder thicker than a telephone book crammed with newspaper accounts and other documents related to the case.
“At times it has been a bit lonely, my work on this case,” he said. “At times I’ve been worried about my safety. But I’m convinced that this young man is innocent, and I can’t just sit back and let history record him as guilty.”
Frierson is eager to share information about Stinney with anyone he thinks may be in a position to help the cause. The father of four said sometimes he can become consumed by the tragedy of the case.
“I look at the sadness of this,” he said. “This was a 14-year-old boy, not even started with life even.”
Family members have declared Stinney’s innocence from the beginning, and both white and black clergy associations petitioned Gov. Olin Johnston to at least commute the boy’s sentence to life imprisonment. So did the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but Johnston said he saw nothing wrong with Stinney’s trial.
That trial began at 2:30 p.m. April 24, just a month after the girls’ disappearance, and was finished within two-and-a-half hours. Stinney had allegedly confessed, though no written confession has ever been found, and jurors only had law enforcement’s word that such a confession had been given. Manning attorney Steve McKenzie, who worked with Frierson on the case for several years, said he heard an account where detectives offered the boy ice cream once they were done.
“They were going to make it where he was going to say whatever they wanted him to say,” McKenzie said.
Stinney’s court-appointed attorney was a tax commissioner preparing for a Statehouse run, and 1944 was an election year. Stinney supporters think the man called no defense witnesses and abrogated a proper defense to not rattle white voters. The attorney never filed an appeal and did not challenge the sheriff’s recollection of the confession.
“As an attorney, it just kind of haunted me, just the way the judicial system worked to this boy’s disadvantage or disfavor,” McKenzie said. “It did not protect him.”
Frierson said Saturday that he has worked for years to obtain the victims’ autopsy reports. The graphic reports detail injuries that Frierson thinks could not have been inflicted by Stinney’s small frame. Indeed, historical records show that the 5-foot-1, 90-pound boy had to be specially fitted into the electric chair on the day of his execution.
“These records show a much larger man had to be the culprit,” Frierson said. The reports also show that neither of the girls was sexually assaulted. Deputies claimed at trial that Stinney’s motive in murdering the girls was to cover up a rape attempt.
“Every piece of evidence that we have shows that Stinney did not do these terrible offenses,” Frierson said in 2009.
He continues to think that four years later and said it is only a matter of time before some legal authority agrees with him. The Rev. W.J. Frierson, himself a member of Clarendon County Council who has been fascinated with the case, told Stinney’s family on Saturday that they should “keep the faith ... and trust in the God of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to see (them) through.”
“Not just (Stinney), but three young folks lost their lives in this terrible case,” the Rev. Frierson said. “We ask God to bring justice today, not just for (Stinney) but for those two young girls.”
Hill said her family is “willing to go the distance.”
“Stinney is a peaceful name,” Hill said. “We have always known that. The Stinneys are not about taking lives, they are about God.”