The case of young George Stinney, only 14 years old, tragically illustrates another source of wrongful convictions in this country— false confessions.
In March 1944, two young white girls were found brutally murdered in Alcolu, South Carolina. The girls had been beaten over the head with a railroad spike and dumped into a ditch. George and his sister were believed to have been the last to see them alive.
On June 16, 1944, just a few short months later, he was executed and became the youngest person in modern history to have been put to death. He was made to sit on a Bible because he was too small for the electric chair.
Shortly after George was arrested and taken into custody, he was questioned in a small room without his parents or an attorney. The police claimed that the young boy confessed to killing the girls. After a two-hour trial and a 10-minute jury deliberation, George was convicted and sentenced to die. His lawyer, who was running for public office, chose not to appeal. The only evidence implicating George in this crime was his alleged “confession.”
George was convicted by an all-white jury. The defense called no witnesses. There was no written record of George’s alleged “confession.”
George, however, had an alibi that was never presented to the jury—his sister said she was with him at the time of the murders, watching their family’s cow graze near some railroad tracks by their house. That’s where they were when the two girls rode over on their bicycles and asked them if they knew where they could find some maypops. George and his sister said no, and the girls rode away.
At a hearing in 2014, an evidentiary hearing was held on a new trial motion that was filed by a lawyer seeking to vacate George’s conviction. The judge heard testimony from George’s brothers and sisters, a witness from the search party, and experts who challenged George’s confession. A child forensic psychiatrist testified that George’s confession should never have been trusted. Seventy (70) years after he was executed, George’s conviction was overturned on the basis that he had not received a fair trial. In addition to other findings, the judge declared that George’s confession was likely coerced and therefore inadmissible.