In July 16th, of 1949 four young black men, Ernest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd, and Walter Irvin were accused of raping a white woman. Walter Irvin and Samuel Shepherd was both veterans of World War II.
Case Details and Events
One the Night of July 16, 1949 A 17 year old white woman in Groveland, Florida
After the arrests Sheriff Willis McCall was put in charge of the investigation. A angry white people gathered at the County Jail and demanded that McCall turn the men over to them forcing McCall to transfer the men to Raiford State Prison.
With the three remaining men out of harm’s way the white mob looked for a new target. They went to an all black section of Groveland where two of the accused families lived. The white mob drove to Groveland in a caravan and once arrived , shot into blacks home and the tavern owned by the mother of Ernest Thomas they went to Shepherd father house and burn his house to the ground, as while as several black owned businesses. They then drove around the black section and threw rocks and hurled insults at any blacks they found.
The next day McCall and several prominent businessmen in the area fear an escalation of mob and Ku Klux Klan violence and warn most of the black resident residents to leave town until things settled down. McCall had to call in the National Guard to help bring order. The National Guard brought the rioting to an halt.
A grand jury indicted the three remaining rape suspects. NAACP attorney Franklin Williams represented the three young men. When Mr. Williams and the FBI interviewed two of the three suspects about their confessions, Shepherd and Greenlee told them they confessed to the crime to stop the beating. They also said that the deputies had beaten them while making them stand on broken glass, their hands was tied to a pipe above their heads. Despite the beatings Irvin never confessed and continued to maintain his innocence. Sheriff Willis V. McCall deputies James Yates and Leroy Campbell have been accused of manufacturing evidence in this case to win a conviction. Mr. Williams documented the physical abuse with photographs. The Justice Department felt that Yates and Campbell had violated the three accused Civil Rights and urge United States Attorney Herbert Phillips of Florida to prosecute, but Philips was reluctant and failed to return indictments.
Trial and Sentencings
Once the trial began, the prosecution fear that the higher court world reverse any guilty verdict. The prosecutor never did bring the forced confession into evidence. There was some doubt if Padgett was even raped. The physician who examined Norma Padgett was not called to testify, nor would judge Truman Futch allow the defense to call the physician to the standThe investigative deputies claimed they have a footprint from the crime scene that matches one of the accused, but a forensics expert for the defense testified that the footprint casts were fraudulently by Deputy James Yates.
The investigative deputies claimed they have a footprint from the crime scene that matches one of the accused, but a forensics expert for the defense testified that the footprint casts were fraudulently by Deputy James Yates.
Shepherd and Irvin said they were in Eatonville, Florida drinking that night and Greenlee said he was nowhere near the other defendants, Greenlee said he didn’t even know the other defendant until he was arrested and taken to the same jail in Tavares, Florida.
Despite evidence pointing to no rape had happened the three young men was convicted by an all white jury. Irvin and Shepherd were found guilty of rape and sentenced to death by electric chair. Greenlee was also found guilty of rape but because he was underage, he was sentence to life in prison rather than to death.
Irvin and Shepherd appealed their death convictions, but Greenlee did not as he face the death penalty in the future should other jury find him guilty. In 1951 NAACP legal team headed by Thurgood Marshall bring Shepherd v. Florida to United States supreme and was successful in getting this case overturned on appeal, which ordered a retrial on grounds that blacks had been improperly excluded from the jury and ordered a new trial.
In November 1951 McCall was transporting Irvin and Shepherd from state prison to county jail for retrial. Sheriff McCall claim to have tire trouble and told Irvin and Shepherd to get out of his car and assist him, but ending up shooting them both while they were shackled to one other. 15 minutes later witness including news reporter showed up at the scene. One reporter notice Irvin was still breathing and yelled “Hey, one of those guys are still alive.” Later at the hospital FBI agents question McCall about the incident and McCall claimed that Irvin and Shepherd attacked him in an and attempt to escape custody leaving him with no choice but to shot both men. Samuel Shepherd was declared died at the scene and Walter Irvin played died until help arrived. Irvin had a different story and accused McCall of attempt murder in cold blood. McCall was never indicted or suspended from office as a result of this incident.
After recovering from his wounds, Irvin was retried in Marion County, Florida. Thurgood Marshall led the defense team, Irvin refused a deal from the prosecutor and Governor Fuller Warren to spare him from a death sentence if he pled guilty to rape. Irvin quickly refused this deal, emphatically stating that he would not admit to something he have not done.
Irvin was found guilty again and sentence to death. In 1955 after reviewing the case and not convinced of Irvin guilt Florida newly elected Governor LeRoy Collins Commuted Irvin to life in prison.
Charles Greenlee was paroled in 1962 and was living in 2012 when Gilbert King’s book was published
Walter Irvin was paroled in 1968. In 1970 while visiting Lake County Irvin was found dead and slumped over his car, Officially of natural causes. Marshall Thurgood said he had doubt about the Circumstances.