George Stinney Jr., 1944.
In the last two decades American attitudes toward children have shifted significantly toward the idea of rehabilitation. That has not always been the case, especially in regards to young people of color. As exonerations have risen in recent years, there has been some discussion of the case of George Stinney Jr., who was the youngest American executed in the 20th century, at the age of only 14.
Given the extreme racial bias of the era and poor quality of police work at the time, it is unconvincing that this small child committed the gruesome murders he was executed for in 1944. He was convicted in minutes, received essentially no defense from his lawyer, and was executed 84 days later. However, due to modern scrutiny, he was posthumously exonerated in 2014. His execution was a disturbing event for witnesses who later described it, as the Washington Post notes:
“Stinney was barely 5 feet tall and not yet 100 pounds. The electric chair’s straps were too big for his frail body. Newspapers at the time reported he had to sit on books to reach the headpiece. And when the switch was flipped, the convulsions knocked down the large mask, exposing his tearful face to the crowd.”
James Arcene, the youngest person sentenced to death in America, age 10.
James Arcene, a Cherokee Indian, was hanged in Arkansas in 1885 for being one of two participants in a robbery turned murder at the age of 10. He escaped for over a decade but was re-captured and executed at the age of 23, along with the older man who was his co-defendant.
Fortune Ferguson Jr.
Not all death sentences were for murder, either. In 1927 Fortune Ferguson Jr. was executed in Florida for raping an 8-year-old girl when he was 13. This makes him the youngest offender sentenced to death in the 20th century.
Check back tomorrow for our next Did You Know post. Do you have a question about the death penalty we could address? Comment below!