George Stinney, Jr., Number 260, an update

>> Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Quite a number of years ago (2009), I wrote an entry here about juvenile justice in which I mentioned the youngest American executed in modern times, George Stinney, Jr..  George was executed by the state of South Carolina in 1944.  They electrocuted him, and he was too small to fit in the electric chair when they killed him.  That's George, to the right, inmate 260.  All 95 pounds of him.  Ferocious-looking, isn't he?  (Newcomers to the blog are advised that that's grim sarcasm.  In fact, the child looks like he'd have trouble hurting an earthworm he was going to bait a hook with down at the local fishing hole.)

The update this week is that George's conviction has been thrown out by a South Carolina Circuit Court judge.  Judge Carmen T. Mullen, reviewing a depressingly-but-unsurprisingly incomplete record of the child's trial, which took a single day to hear and involved only ten minutes of jury deliberation, granted a request for a writ of coram nobis on the grounds that few of the young man's rights weren't violated: his confession was most likely coerced, his counsel was woefully inadequate, he could not possibly have received a fair and impartial trial in that venue, and it was cruel and unusual punishment  to execute a child.  The whole opinion can be read here--the format's a bit annoying, but many thanks to Mr. Robert Joseph Baker for posting it nevertheless.

While Judge Mullen's opinion is obviously the moral thing under the circumstances, it's hard not to feel depressed by the injustice that occurred long before our time, and the delay that truly has been a denial.  All of George Stinney's surviving brothers and sisters are elderly now, and have been robbed of growing up with a brother who liked art and airplanes.  There's no faulting Judge Mullen here: it's hardly her fault she was born seventy years too late to avert an injustice that occurred when the legal profession had barely more regard for an accomplished woman with a law degree and extensive legislative and litigation experience than it had for an African-American child.  But all she could do really does feel like too little and too late, at least to me.  (It may be consoling to the Stinney family--I hope it's something, anyway.)

In my pessimistic, jaded frame of burned-out listlessness, I can't help observing that this update is in some respects bad news: the youngest child executed in the United States in the modern era is now a legally innocent child.  One injustice has been addressed as well as it might be: it doesn't appear that George Stinney ever should have been convicted, if all they had was a probably coerced confession (one that was recanted, no less, according to a witness at the coram nobis hearing) and no physical evidence; a probably coerced confession that frankly seems hard to believe when one considers that one of the victims matched little George in size and combined they quite likely would have outmatched him.  Another injustice is irredeemable: a child is dead, one who shouldn't have been killed in the United States of America even in the unlikely event he did do something terrible.

I don't believe in an afterlife, but if I'm wrong, I hope George forgives us, however unworthy we may be.




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