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Abolish the death penalty – An additional reason

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As if this were execution-happy China that puts people to death shortly after the death penalty is ordered, in 1944, fourteen-year-old African-American George Stinney, Jr., was executed in South Carolina eighty-four days after being found guilty of murdering two white girls at the height of virulent racism throughout the South, and when the United States military continued racial segregation during the then-ongoing World War II.

As CBS News online reports: "The trial lasted one day and the all-white, all-male jury deliberated for just 10 minutes before pronouncing the 14-year-old guilty and sentencing him to die by electrocution."

On December 17, 2014, South Carolina trial judge Carmen Tevis Mullen exonerated Mr. Stinney, in part because his trial lawyer did little to defend him and because of the lack of written evidence of a confession, in those pre-Miranda days when it was easy for police to extract a false confession from a child so young without telling him of any right to remain silent or to have a lawyer, and when the United States Supreme Court had not yet even ruled that state-level criminal defendants are entitled to court-appointed lawyers.

At Mr. Stinney’s 2014 exoneration hearing, surviving relatives testified that he was home when the killings happened, so could not have committed them.

Today, seventy years after Mr. Stinney was executed, the prosecutor and victims’ relatives said Mr. Stinney’s conviction should stand. How sad, to say the least.

Here are some more thoughts:

– Racism continues to poison too much of American society, and therefore still poisons the criminal justice and capital punishment system.

– The Supreme Court now prohibits executing minors.

– Why did Mr. Stinney’s trial proceed so quickly, preventing his lawyer from obtaining evidence and discovery, preparing defense witnesses, and presenting an effective defense?

– Why was Mr. Stinney’s conviction and sentence not appealed before he was executed? Today, those convicted at trial for a major felony ordinarily appeal.

– The jury was all white. Mr. Stinney was African-American. The victims were white. Right up until today, vastly more people are given the death penalty where the murder victim is white rather than otherwise.

– The death penalty is irreversible, effectively racist and so often (if not always) in fact racist, and so expensive to defend that almost no capital defendant can afford a qualified retained lawyer, thus leaving them at the mercy of court-appointed lawyer systems, too many of which underpay court-appointed lawyers and do not assure a lawyer who has sufficient relevant experience, knowledge and devotion to serving capital defendants.

It breaks my heart to know this story, particularly when adding viewing Mr. Stinney’s young mugshot, considering that virulent racism ruled the South at that time, and considering that such rush trials and executions likely were all too common in those days.