Samuel Shepherd, an African-American World War II veteran, was arrested with two other black men — Walter Irvin, and Charless Greenlee — in 1948, accused of raping a 17-year-old white woman. Another man, Ernest Thomas, was accused of the crime as well, but was killed by a posse before he could be arrested. The three survivors were all convicted by an all-white jury and were sentenced to death, save for Greenlee, who received a life sentence since he was a minor at the time of the alleged rape. They would appeal, and the United States Supreme Court ordered a retrial of the men. Unfortunately, Sheriff Willis McCall had other plans. He shot both Shepherd and Irvin in November 1951 while the men were in custody, claiming the inmates tried to escape. Irvin would survive; Shepherd would not.
Irvin would get his retrial, but would find himself once again convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to death. Another appeal led to the same fate. Thurgood Marshall would continue to seek relief outside of the courts, organizing a committee of religious leaders to pressure newly-elected Governor LeRoy Collins. In 1955, Collins commuted Irvin’s sentence to life in prison. Irvin was paroled in 1968, but in 1970, his dead body was found slumped over his car. His official cause of death was “natural causes”, but Thurgood Marshall insisted he wasn’t so sure of the conclusion.
As of 2012, Charles Greelee is still alive. He was paroled in 1962.
The four men who allegedly raped Norma Padgett — Samuel Shepherd,Walter Irvin, Charles Greenlee, and Ernest Thomas — were known as the Groveland Four.
Lake County, Florida
November 6, 1951