The Groveland Four or The Groveland Boys are four Black Americans deprived of their fundamental legal rights and thus accused of the rape of a white girl.
On July 16 1949, four black young teenagers were falsy accused of the rape of a white girl, Norma Padgett then 17 years old. They were also accused of assaulting her husband in Lake County, Florida.
Ernest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd, and Walter Irvin
All four boys were arrested as suspects shortly after the rape was reported by Norma Padgett. At the time of the arrest, Charles Greenlee was 16 and married, Earnest Thomas was also married. Samuel Shepherd was 22, a veteran in the army and Walter Irvin was also 22, a veteran in the army.
“The next time, we’ll clean out every Negro section in south Lake County.”
Irvin and Shepard were arrested shortly after the alleged rape was reported. Once under police custody, they were driven to a secluded area.
There, they were ordered out of the car and beaten by police officers with blackjacks and fists and kicked as they lay on the ground, while being asked if they had picked up a white girl. Once the officers were done beating them, they took Irvin and Shepard to the alleged crime scene. Deputy Yates, inspected the two black men shoes. None of theirs matched the footprint left by the real rapist on the ground. Shepherd had the same shoes he had worn the night before. Whereas Irvin, had a different pair of shoes.
Still, the two men were taken to Tavares jail, where they were interrogated in the basement while cuffed to overhead pipes and severely beaten. Meanwhile, a mob rioted and burned Shepherd’s house to the ground.
The Murder of Earnest Thomas
Thomas fled and was killed on July 26, 1949.
A posse of about 1,000 men was formed to hunt down Thomas. He was shot 400 times when they found him sleeping under a tree. Police learned where the latter lived and where he was hiding, as they found a letter in his letterbox addressed to his wife.
According to the coroner’s inquest, Lake County Sheriff McCall was at the scene when Thomas was shot. The coroner’s jury determined that Thomas had been lawfully killed and ruled his death a justifiable homicide
White residents also formed a mob and went to a black neighborhood, burning houses and firing guns into homes in a disturbance that took days to quell.
Charles Greenlee was 16,when he left Gainesville, FL for Lake County in hope to find work. He did the journey with his friend, Earnest Thomas, whom convinced him that there was work in Groveland. Greenlee was waiting at a rail depot to meet Thomas when he was arrested and brought to the police station under suspicion. Greenlee was interrogated and beaten in a cell that night until he admitted to the rape of Norma Padgett. Thomas escaped capture and fled Lake County the following morning. Greenlee admitted to having been with Thomas.
Greenlee, Shepherd and Irvin were arrested. They were beaten to coerce confessions, but Irvin refused to confess. The three survivors were convicted at trial by an all-white jury
- In November 1951, Sheriff Willis V. McCall of Lake County, Florida shot Irvin and Shepherd while they were in his custody and handcuffed together.
- Shepherd died on the spot; Irvin survived and later told FBI investigators that McCall had shot them in cold blood and that his deputy, Yates, had also shot him in an attempt to kill him.
- Shepherd and Greenlee separately later told FBI investigators that the deputies beat them until they confessed
- The FBI later concluded that Lake County deputies James Yates and Leroy Campbell had violated the Groveland men’s civil rights and urged U.S. Attorney Herbert Phillips of Florida to prosecute, but a grand jury did not return indictments of the deputies
The Alleged Rape
The prosecution did not question Dr. Geoffrey Binneveld, the physician who examined her, on the stand. Judge Truman Futch did not permit the defense to call the doctor as a witness.
According to his records, Binneveld could not tell whether she had been raped. He found no evidence of tears or wounds in the vagina other than the lacerations mentioned above.
Laboratory analysis of a vaginal smear revealed no spermatozoa present in the vagina, nor any organisms resembling gonococci, which could have been other evidence of sex. There were no other gross signs of bruises, breaks in the skin or other signs of violence.
Shepherd and Irvin said that they had been together drinking in Eatonville, Florida, the night of the alleged attack.
Greenlee said he was nowhere near the other defendants on that night and that he had never met Shepherd and Irvin before.
Shepherd and Irvin were sentenced to death, and Greenlee was sentenced to life, as he was a minor.
70 Years Later The Charges Might Get Dropped
A local prosecutor has filed a motion to clear the names of four young African American men who were wrongly accused of raping a white woman more than seven decades ago in what is considered one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in Jim Crow-era Florida.
Prosecutor Bill Gladson filed a motion on Monday to dismiss the indictments of Ernest Thomas and Samuel Shepherd and to set aside the judgments and sentences of Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin. The motion filed in state court in Ocala seeks to correct the record with new evidence in the case of the young men known as the “Groveland Four,” Gladson said. It will be heard by an administrative judge.
“The evidence strongly suggests that a sheriff, a judge, and prosecutor all but guaranteed guilty verdicts in this case,” Gladson said in his motion. “These officials, disguised as keepers of the peace and masquerading as ministers of justice, disregarded their oaths, and set in motion a series of events that forever destroyed these men, their families, and a community. I have not witnessed a more complete breakdown of the criminal justice system.”
Jesse Hunter, grandson of the now-deceased prosecutor of two of the Groveland Four defendants was interviewed by Gladson and investigators and said that, Broward Hunter, his grandfather and a judge in the case knew there was no rape.