1948-1970 - Lake County, Florida

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The Groveland Four (or the Groveland Boys) were four young African-American men—Ernest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin—who were accused of raping a 17-year-old white woman in Lake County, Florida in 1948. Thomas was killed by a posse after leaving the area. Greenlee, Shepherd, and Irvin were beaten while in jail to coerce confessions, but Irvin refused to confess falsely. The three survivors were each convicted at trial by an all-white jury. Greenlee was sentenced to life because he was only 16 at the time of the event; Shepherd and Irvin were sentenced to death. A retrial was ordered by the United States Supreme Court after hearing their appeals, led by Thurgood Marshall of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. In 1951, Sheriff Willis McCall shot both Shepherd and Irvin in November, 1951 while they were in his custody, saying they tried to escape. Shepherd died on the spot, and Irvin told investigators the sheriff shot them in cold blood. At the second trial, Irvin was convicted again and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life by the governor in 1955. Irvin was paroled in 1968; he died in 1970 while visiting Lake County