Justice Too Long Delayed Is Justice Denied

The quote “Justice Delayed Is Justice Denied,” generally attributed to William Ewart Gladstone, refers to the belief that if legal redress is available for a party that has suffered some injury but is not forthcoming in a timely fashion, it is effectively the same as having no redress at all.

Martin Luther King used the phrase in 1963 altering it to “Justice too long delayed is justice denied” in his notable writing, Letters From Birmingham Jail.  The addition of the words “too long” alludes to the idea that equality has always been promised, but if it is delivered in a timeframe that is not conducive to the impacted group, it is just as useless as not having been delivered at all.

It is during the celebration of Black History Month for the year 2014 that I reflect on this observation through the story of George Stinney, Jr.

In 1944, George Stinney, Jr, a 14 year old African-American boy, was sent to the electric chair by order of the state of South Carolina.  Stinney, called “Junior”, is the youngest person to be executed in the United States of America in the last century.

Junior was convicted of killing two white girls, ages 8 and 11,  in a trial that lasted barely two hours in one day, including jury selection and deliberation.   Junior’s court appointed attorneys called no witnesses.  The all-white, all male jury deliberated for ten minutes prior to reaching the verdict of guilty.

In 2014, Junior’s family, including his sisters, petitioned to re-open his case, and that case is currently being argued in the South Carolina Third Circuit court. The family’s goal is to clear Junior’s name, and to shed light on the shortcomings of his trial, including the fact that:

  • There was no physical evidence that Junior had committed these murders.  The sole evidence presented was the circumstantial fact that the girls had spoken with Junior and his sister prior to their murders.
  • Three police officers testified that Junior had confessed to the murders, but did not make written record of the confession.
  •  Junior’s court-appointed defense counsel was a tax commissioner seeking advancement in an upcoming election, which gave him no incentive to defend an African-American alleged killer.
  •  Junior’s defense counsel did not challenge the testimony of the police officers who testified to the confession, despite this being the only evidence presented by the prosecution.
  •  Junior at trial denied confessing to the crime.
  •  Junior’s sister indicated she was with him at the time of the murders, but she was never questioned by the police, prosecutor or the defense counsel or called as a witness.
  • Junior’s defense counsel did not call any witnesses.

On the day that Junior was executed:

  •   Junior walked to the execution chamber with a Bible under his arm.  The Bible was later used as a booster seat in the electric chair.
  •  Due to his size (5 foot 2 inches or 157 cm) and weight (90 pounds or 40 kg), his executioners had difficulties securing him to the frame holding the electrodes.
  • The adult size facemask did not fit him, falling off following the first 2,400 volts surge of electricity through his body.
  •  After two more jolts of electricity totaling 2400 volts, Junior was declared dead four minutes following the initial jolt.
  •  From the time of the murders until Junior’s death, eighty-one days had passed.

The impact on Junior’s family and the community was palpable:

  • Following Junior’s arrest, his father was fired from his job.
  • Junior’s parents and siblings were given the choice of leaving town or being lynched.
  • The family was forced to flee, leaving Junior alone with no support during his 81-day confinement, trial and execution.
  • Due to laws of racial segregation, African-Americans were not allowed in the courtroom.

Concluding Words- Dr. Kane

There is currently a motion before the South Carolina Supreme Court to obtain a “posthumous pardon” for Junior.  The motion alleges the following:

  • There is no transcript of the trial.
  • There was no evidence presented to the jury.
  • New evidence is being introduced, including:
  • Witness testimony from Junior’s sister, who  will provide testimony regarding Junior’s whereabouts at the time of the murders.
  •  Additional non-family witness testimony attesting to Junior’s whereabouts at the time of the murders.
  •  An alternative person, now deceased, has been advanced as a possible suspect. There is evidence that this person made a deathbed confession.
    •  The suspect is rumored to have come from a well-known, prominent white family.
    •  It is rumored that a member or members of that family served on the coroner’s inquest jury that recommended that Junior be prosecuted for the murders.

It is unclear whether any of the rumors are true.  There are factors that clearly indicate that there was no factual evidence in convicting a 14 year-old boy of these crimes.  It is clear that the two white families suffered in the loss of their little girls.

However, in this tragedy, there are lessons we can learn.  Mankind can learn how to love each other and “forgive the self” for the damage, death and psychological destruction that was caused.


Whereas man may not, God truly loves.

It was God who opened his loving arms and welcomed him home.

My mother, Mary Williamson Kane, used to say “God only wants roses in his garden. “

Junior, you are a rose.  Be at rest.  Rest in Peace.

Until the next journey…..

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