Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Execution of George Stinney, Jr.

June 16, 2007

On this date, in 1944, the State of South Carolina executed George Stinney, Jr, a 14-year-old African American. Stinney is the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century.

Stinney was convicted of murdering two white girls, Betty June Binnicker, age 11, and Mary Emma Thames, age 8, in Clarendon County. He was arrested the day following the murders and charged with first-degree murder.

The trial took place one month afterwards, starting at 12:30 PM and ending at 5:30 PM. After only 10 minutes of deliberation, the jury, all white and male, returned a guilty verdict.

Charles Plowden, the 31-year-old court-appointed defense attorney, did not file an appeal, which would have automatically stayed the sentence for at least one year. Inexperienced and politically ambitious, Plowden reportedly said, “There was nothing to appeal.” In fact, Plowden did not see his client again.

Consequently, Stinny was executed six weeks after his conviction. He was so small at 5’ 1” and weighing only 95 pounds that the guards had difficulty strapping him in the electric chair. During the execution, the adult-sized mask was blown off his face by the force of the electrical charge, revealing a portrait frozen in terror.

Stinney’s family was told to leave town prior to the trial to avoid further retribution. An atmosphere of lynch mob hysteria hung over the courthouse. Without family visits, the 14 year old had to endure the trial and death alone.

Questionable evidence was presented at the trial. Stinney’s “confession” was suspect but his attorney failed to raise questions about coercion by two white police officers who arrested him. Moreover, the girls had been killed by a ground-joist from a railroad track. It was never determined if Stinney was even physically capable of lifting the heavy beam, if he could have swung it.

I was born in Clarendon County six years after Stinney’s execution. But that event, as did Emmet Till’s murder in 1955, cast a long shadow. Stern parental lectures to black male children about the hazards of life under American Apartheid prominently featured Stinney and Till. Step out of line and if the state doesn’t kill you, the Klan mob will.

The first “field trip” from my elementary school was to the state penitentiary in Columbia. We were escorted to view the electric chair, painted in a bright orange as I recall. Afterwards, we were treated to a tour of the state mental institution where we observed patients strapped to chairs and beds, many sitting in their own urine and feces. Some were mumbling incoherently, oblivious to their surroundings. Others were screaming unintelligibly. When we were taken back downstairs to the first floor, I remember black men standing in the room smiling at us, waving and assuring us that they were “not crazy.”

*****
Fast-forward to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that makes it easier for prosecutors to exclude people who express reservations about the death penalty from capital juries.

Studies have shown that “death-qualified jurors” are also more prone to convict than those who express reservations about capital punishment. No less significant is the fact that support for the death penalty drops from more than 60% to about half when life in prison without possibility of parole is an option. But the recent court decision will allow prosecutors to exclude such jurors.

We have come a long way since George Stinney’s execution. Juveniles are no longer subject to capital punishment, as are mentally retarded people. The courts have also overturned convictions due to evidence of racial bias in choosing jurors, flawed jury instructions, and defense lawyer incompetence.

Yet, the thirst for state vengeance persists, even at the expense of fairness and simple justice. It is not enough that a juror expresses reservations but still assures courts that they can be impartial, fair, and follow the law.

"Peremptory Challenges” are commonly used by prosecutors to automatically eliminate black potential jurors, without explanation or justification, due to perceived death penalty reservations or because black jurors are perceived as “defense-oriented.”

With close range familiarity with injustice in the criminal justice system, it should come as no surprise that many black jurors are defense-oriented, or ambivalent or morally opposed to capital punishment.

The court’s decision could potentially exclude about half of the population from serving on capital juries, according to experts in the field.

University of South Florida psychology professor, Brooke Butler, recently told New York Times reporter, Adam Liptak, that death-qualified jurors are “demographically unique.”

Liptak reported that Professor Butler has conducted over 2,000 interviews with potential jurors over the past seven years. “They tend to be white,” she said. “They tend to be male. They tend to be moderately well educated---high school or maybe a little college. They tend to be politically conservative---Republican. They tend to be Christian—Catholic or Protestant. They tend to be middle socio-economic status—maybe $30,000 or $40,000” in yearly income.

Professor Butler also concluded, in a study to be published by the peer-reviewed journal, Behavioral Sciences and the Law, those death-qualified jurors “ are more likely to be prejudiced---to be racist, sexist and homophobic.”

Tinkering with the fundamentals of fairness and justice to tilt the balance in favor of the prosecution in life and death cases is particularly egregious. This tinkering is not intended to insure impartiality or fairness, but rather to rig the system to promote an outcome pursued by the state.

That race is the central factor in this tinkering, masquerading as an effort to insure that the state “gets a fair trial”, signals the use of a Trojan Horse to legitimize racism in the administration of justice.

It is not 1944, but we are likely to see more George Stinney, Jr. juries in the 21st century .

14 comments:

Charles said...

Testing comments function.

Imani said...

Wow,

Quite a story and quite the analysis. Funny, I literally just got an email from a good sisterfriend commenting that an email I had recently sent her about Strawberry Quik (flavored Meth being marketed to children like candy) made her rethink her position on the death penalty. Of course she wasn't serious but that kind of dastardly behavior certainly makes you agree that the hottest places in hell are reserved for folks who would come up with such a thing.

Then you read a piece like this, and you come back to your senses about what the state should be able to do by law. Racism and other forms of oppression certainly forstall any imagined opportunity for justice in our "just us" system.

Thanks for such a thoughful piece.
LLS

Thirst4Knowledge said...

Fantastic!

What a great way to introduce your blog. The story was one that I was not familiar with and truly, made me realize that this insensitive/racist behavior continues to be a part of the history of this country as we have arrived in the 21st Century.

I intend to pass this blog on to others that will see the value of this educational forum and many who will want to contribute to the health, wealth, welfare and interaction of this process.

Kudo's to you, Charles, for your steadfastness and willingness to articulate and put in writing issues that need to be "put in our faces", that are thought provoking.

Count me in to contribute and make this a part of my daily internet experience.

Your Sister
LKA

Kira said...

Do you have a DIGG button on your blog, Charles? I didn't see one. I've dugg it, anyway. You can find it here, political opinion, but unless it gets a lot of digg's it'll probably be way back. Still, having a digg button may get your blog more attention.

Good story, too...

Charles said...

Thanks, Kira. I'm new to this blog thing. Can you explain in plain English what a Digg button is, and it does?

M. Blankenship said...

I suggest that the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions are oriented toward removing the obstacles that currently slow down the rate of executions. Barring the execution of juveniles and mentally-retarded offenders (the definition of mentally retarded has yet to be settled thus still making this category a target for ambitious prosecutors) while weakening restrictions of juror qualifications that will result in more prosecutor friendly, conviction prone, and death sentence favoring eligible for capital juries. Taken as a whole, I suggest that these decisions are aimed at making it easier to impose and carryout death sentences.

At the same time, public opinion is beginning to change regarding the death penalty. The most recent Gallup Poll shows support at 67%, which is down from the high of 80% in 1994. When asked if they favored life in prison or death, support dropped to 47%.
In fact, public support, the size of death row population, and the number of executions have all declined since 2000.

Thus I believe it is important to tell stories like that of George Stinney, Jr. Despite recent events such as “extraordinary renditions,” Camp X-Ray, and Abu Ghriab Prison, I still believe that somewhere in the American consciousness is a desire for fairness and equality. Please continue to hold the “mirror” up to our face.

Michael Blankenship
justicegambit.blogspot.com

dudleysharp said...

Death Penalty Polls - Support Remains Very High
Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below
 
Death penalty support is much deeper and much wider than we are often led to believe, with significant percentages of those who say they, generally, oppose the death penalty, actually supporting it under specific circumstances.
 
General Support

76% of Americans find that we should impose the death penalty more or that we impose it about right - only 21% that it is imposed too often. (Gallup, May 2006 - 51% that we should impose it more, 25% that we impose it about right)

71%  find capital punishment morally acceptable - that was the highest percentage answer for all questions (Gallup, April 2006, moral values poll). In May, 2007, the percentage dropped to 66%, still the highest percentage answer, with 27% opposed. (Gallup, 5/29/07)

When asked the general question "do you support capital punishment for murderers?" , 69% of Americans said yes, with 28% opposed  (Gallup, 10/07).


Specific Case Support is much higher

81% of the American people supported the execution of Timothy McVeigh, with only 16% opposed. "(T)his view appears to be the consensus of all major groups in society, including men, women, whites, nonwhites, "liberals" and "conservatives."  (Gallup 5/2/01).

85% of pf the primarily liberal Connecticut respondents voiced support for serial/rapist murderer Michael Ross' "voluntary" execution. (Quinnipiac University Poll, January 12, 2005).
 
79% support the death penalty for terrorists (Survey USA News Poll #12074, Sponsor: WABC-TV   New York, 4/26/2007 New York State poll)
 
"78% of (Nebraska's) 3,232 respondents said they supported the death penalty for “heinous crimes.” 16% opposed.  ". . . a nearly identical number (76%) said they opposed legislation that would abolish the death penalty.  ("Survey Shows Statewide Support for Death Penalty",  MPB Public Affairs Poll, 2/14/08)
 
73% of Connecticut voters support the death penalty for the two parolees accused of the Cheshire (Ct) home invasion rape/murders of a mother and her two daughters. While 63% of Connecticut voters support the death penalty for murderers, in general, AT THE SAME TIME.  ("Connecticut Voters Support Death Penalty 2-1", Quinnipiac University Poll, 11/7/07). NOTE: Support is more than 3 to 1. The poll showed 73% for execution, 23% opposed, for those parolees.  It was 63-27% for the general question.
 
This, from the French daily Le Monde, December 2006 (1):

Percentage of respondents in favor of executing Saddam Hussein:  
Great Britain: 69%
France: 58%
Germany: 53%
Spain: 51%
Italy: 46%
USA: 82%

We are led to believe there isn't death penalty support in England or Europe. European governments won't allow executions when their populations support it: they're anti democratic. (2)

97%+ of Guatemalans support the death penalty. 2.6% oppose
(telephone survey, newspaper Prensa Libre, 2/14/08)
www(dot)latinamericapress.org/article.asp?lanCode=1&artCode=5545

79% support the resumption of hanging in Jamaica. 16% oppose.  (Bill Johnson Polling for The Gleaner (Jamaica) Newspaper, 1/12-13/08

Why the large "error rate" between general and specific case support?
 
That very  wide "error rates", between general support and specific case support, is likely due to the differences in (1) the widespread media coverage of anti death penalty claims, without the balance of contradicting those false claims, producing lower general support,  (2) the absence of that influence when looking at individual cases when the public knows the crimes, the guilt of the murderer, and absent the anti death penalty bias factor, thus producing much higher specific case  support and/or (3) reluctance of some respondents to voice stronger support for the death penalty, unless  specific examples of murderers and their crimes are provided, as evidenced within (1) and (2).


Death Penalty Opposition? Look Again.

Significant percentages of those who say the oppose the death penalty do, in fact, support that sanction under specific circumstances. This provides firm evidence that death penalty support is much wider and deeper than expressed with the answer to the general death penalty polling questions.

57% of those who say they oppose the death penalty, generally, actually do support  it for McVeigh's execution (81% supported the execution of McVeigh, 16% opposed (Gallup 5/02/01), while  65% offer general support for executions, with 28% opposed (Gallup, 6/10/01).  The polls were conducted at nearly the same time.

40% who say they oppose the death penalty, generally, actually do support it for terrorists. (79% support and 18% oppose the death penalty for terrorists.  67% support and 29% oppose the death penalty for murder.) (SAME POLL - Survey USA News Poll #12074, Sponsor: WABC-TV   New York, 4/26/2007 New York State poll)

84% of those who, generally, say they oppose the death penalty, actual did support it for Michael Ross. (SAME POLL - 85% say Connecticut serial rapist/murderer Michael Ross should be allowed to waive appeals and be executed. When asked whether they favor or oppose the death penalty,  59% favor -  31% oppose (Quinnipiac University Poll, January 12, 2005).

ERROR NOTE:  The percentages will likely have a range of change, instead of a specific percentage, because there would be a transfer of points, not just from those opposing, under the general question, but from the undecided" or "did not answer" group, as well,  into the supportive group for specific murders.
 
 
Distortion: Death Penalty vs Life Without Parole Polls

When responding to this question: “If you could choose between the following two approaches, which do you think is the better penalty for murder: the death penalty (or) life imprisonment, with absolutely no possibility of parole?”, Gallup found

47% for the death penalty, 48% for life without parole, (Gallup, May 2006).

Some, including Gallup and Quinnipiac, speculate that this represents lower support for the death penalty. Such improper speculation cannot be justified and is an unethical use of pollsters opinion.

Neither respondent group is saying do away with the other sanction or that they oppose the other sanction. What is does  mean is that 95% of US citizens support the death penalty and/or life without parole for murderers. It could also mean that 85% of all respondents support both sanctions. 
 
For example, "Which do you think is better - vanilla ice cream or chocolate ice cream?" 50% prefer chocolate, 45% vanilla. However, 85% actually like both vanilla and chocolate ice cream - with a slightly lower percentage liking vanilla, marginally less. 99% of respondents don't want either ice cream banned. 1% were undecided.
 
Also, this Gallup question is highly prejudicial, which wrongly influence the answers. This has become commonplace.
 
First, "absolutely" no possibility of parole doesn't exist.
 
What is absolute is that the executive branch can reduce sentences and the legislature can change the laws and make them retroactive, if it benefits the criminal, thereby offering two avenues for parole in "absolutely" no-parole cases.
 
Therefore, the polling question offers a false premise which, obviously, distorts the answers. Gallup has been made aware of this for some time.

 Secondly, by law it cannot be a choice of either only a death sentence or only a life sentence, as Gallup wrongly poses.  Constitutionally, the death penalty cannot be mandatory. Therefore, at least two  sentencing options must always be provided to jurors in a death penalty eligible case.

Gallup did not ask this their misleading question in 2007. I hope they did it because of theses error issues and will not resume it or mention it in the future.
 
The proper questions might be, IF you are searching for a true life vs execution choice,:
 
For (specific case) murderers, do you prefer the punishment options of
1) The death penalty or life without parole? or
2) Life without parole, only, or lesser sentences, excluding a death sentence in all cases?
 
Furthermore, this has the benefit of reflecting reality, as opposed to the distorted fiction of Gallup's (and others') current life vs death questions.  The death penalty cannot be a punishment option, without also having  life or other options and the death penalty is case specific.

 
Conclusion
 
Death penalty support is much deeper and much wider than we are often led to believe, with significant percentages of those who say they, generally, oppose the death penalty, actually supporting it under specific circumstances.
 
There is 82% death penalty support in the US, as recently as December 2006. Even the most liberal of US states, Connecticut, has shown very strong support for specific case executions - 85% (2005), 73% (2007).
 
95% of US citizens support the death penalty and/or life without parole for murderers. Therefore, we already have the most democratic approach - we give jurors the choice between those two sentences in capital eligible cases.

Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
e-mail  sharpjfa@aol.com,  713-622-5491,
Houston, Texas
 
Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O'Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.
 
A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.
 
Pro death penalty sites 

homicidesurvivors(dot)com/categories/Dudley%20Sharp%20-%20Justice%20Matters.aspx

www(dot)dpinfo.com
www(dot)cjlf.org/deathpenalty/DPinformation.htm
www(dot)clarkprosecutor.org/html/links/dplinks.htm
www(dot)coastda.com/archives.html
www(dot)lexingtonprosecutor.com/death_penalty_debate.htm
www(dot)prodeathpenalty.com
www(dot)yesdeathpenalty.com/deathpenalty_co
yesdeathpenalty.googlepages.com/home2 (Sweden)
www(dot)wesleylowe.com/cp.html

Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or in part,  is approved with proper attribution.


(1) The recent results of a poll conducted by Novatris/Harris for the French daily Le Monde on the death penalty shocked the editors and writers at Germany's left-leaning SPIEGEL ONLINE (Dec. 22, 2006). When asked whether they favored the death penalty for Saddam Hussein, a majority of respondents in Germany, France and Spain responded in the affirmative.

(2)An excellent article, “Death in Venice: Europe’s Death-penalty Elitism", details this anti democratic position (The New Republic,  by Joshua Micah Marshall, 7/31/2000). Another situation reflects this same mentality. "(Pres. Mandela says 'no' to reinstating the death penalty in South Africa - Nelson Mandela against death penalty though 93% of public favors it, according to poll. "(JET, 10/14/96). Pres. Mandela explained that ". . . it was necessary to inform the people about other strategies the government was using to combat crime." As if the people didn't understand. South Africa has had some of the highest crime rates in the world in the ten years, since Mandela's comments. "The number of murders committed each year in the country is as high as 47,000, according to Interpol statistics." As of 2006, 72% of South Africans want the death penalty back. ("South Africans Support Death Penalty",  5/14/2006,  Angus Reid Global Monitor : Polls & Research).

Copyright  2005-2008

Permission for distribution of this document, in whole or part,  is approved, with proper attribution.

evision said...

http://www.sangambayard-c-m.com

bailey100 said...

Little Betty June Binnicker (the 11 year old) was my Grandmother's baby sister.Granny was 22 years old when her sister was taken away from her loving family.My papa was in the Army at the time, Granny had a tiny 11 month old baby (my dad) and had been staying with her parents and siblings while papa was over in Germany fighting in the war.Those little girls didn't deserve what that killer did to them.Ever since I can remember I have read tons of stuff people have said about Stinney..being innocent and framed with this senceless murder..but, those people weren't there and have NO IDEA what happened out there in that field that day. It is not so hard to think that a 14 year old kid could have done something so awful. Heck, 14 year old kids kill people in this day and age.I have NEVER felt one ounce of pitty for Stinney.If the court system worked that good and fast now, there would be alot less murders now!!People who kill other human beings dont deserve to BREATHE, let alone sit in jail being fed and housed for years and years waiting to be put to death for their crimes!I have a picture of Betty June, she was the sweetest looking little child in the world!!!!

Kathryn said...

I am sorry for the loss you family has to live through. Have you ever considered the possiblity however that Charles Stinney Jr. was innocent? The execution of an innocent is no less egregious. It is apparent that he did not receive adequet legal representatioin.

Eli Faber said...

@ bailey100
I am writing a book about the case, and would very much appreciate an opportunity to discuss it with you. Please contact me. The best place to do so is efaber@jjay.cuny.edu.
Thank you.

tonya112579 said...

@ bailey100; I am sorry that your family had to go through this. I can only imagine the pain. However, you made the statement that the people who say that he (Stinney) is innocent was not in that field that day and don't know what actually happened. Well, that goes both ways. Neither was your family, the police, or the judge for that matter. This was in 1944, and the police makes mistakes in this day and time, so I can only imagine how many mistakes were made then. When I read this story, my heart was heavy for ALL THREE families that was affected by this terrible tradegy.

chrissylynn said...

After doing alot of research on this case I do think that this boy was wrongly convicted, the first red flag is his height and weight, I could see killing one person but two at the same time? That seems highly impossible that the two girls would not be able to overpower him.

I have read several articles that say the boy was offered candy and other things to confess and lets keep in mind that this boy was in interrogation for many hours and there are no recordings of him confessing which again is highly unusual. When people are interrogated or confess they are recorded and he was not.

Even with adults if kept in interrogation for a certain amount of time they end up confessing to a crime they did not commit because you sit there in a small room being asked the same questions over and over for hours to where eventually the person can not take it anymore and confesses so that they can get out of that room and stop being asked the same questions over and over.

As for Bailey I have seen loads of people claim they are either related to the boy or one of the murdered girls. All I have to say to you is you need to remember the times your grandma grew up in and if the boy was convicted do you really think she is going to question if he was innocent? Back during those times if a black was said to of done something half the time there was no trial, they were just lynched and sometimes it was not by law enforcement it was by the klan or the community.

I truly do believe 3 innocent life's were taken

Karen said...

To Bailey100, you were not born during this time and are acting on pure emotion over what your family has told you for years. No one knows the facts, no one, not even the men (jurors and lynchmob) who condemned this child. This were children, all three were. The adults during this era failed to protect them! Have you ever stopped to think that one or some of the white men in the town could have been sexual predators or sociopaths who murdered these girls? It would have been very easy for them to get away with it considering that they could just frame a poor black boy and no one would think any different. Expand your mind dear. Stop being one sided and delusional to exploring different perspectives. I hope those white bastards who killed George and who probably killed your family member are rotting in hell!