The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

Beneath a Ruthless Sun

Book Reviews

by Gilbert Anthony King

Gilbert Anthony King is best known as the author of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winner, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America. In a different case never before reported, King’s latest book, Beneath a Ruthless Sun, exposes and documents the cruelty and injustice of Lake County’s former sheriff, Willis McCall. In this book, King relates how McCall’s power and influence corrupted deputy sheriffs, judges, state attorneys, defense attorneys, physicians, politicians, and the victim herself.

The victim, from a socially prominent family, alleged an African-American had sexually assaulted her. The perpetrator was arrested and held in jail. The victim’s husband and her father convinced McCall to place the blame on any white male. To accommodate, McCall framed Jessie Daniels, a 19-year-old white male who was intellectually disabled and had only a fifth-grade education.

McCall struck a deal with the true offender — he would be released if he would pretend to be Jessie, sign a notarized confession, and, as Jessie, take a polygraph test.

Jessie was indicted and thereafter McCall conspired with the judge, the state attorney, and the defense attorney for Jessie to be found insane and committed for life to the state mental hospital in Chattahoochee.

A hearing was held in circuit court to determine if Jessie was competent to stand trial. The court found he was not.

In late 1971, after 13 years in Chattahoochee, Jessie finally found justice. In Daniels v. State, 254 So. 2d 395 (Fla. 2d DCA 1971), the Second District reversed the order of the circuit court and remanded for a new trial.

I was in the Florida Senate when Gov. Rubin Askew removed Willis McCall from office for his misconduct in another case. However, he was reelected. I highly recommend all of Gilbert King’s nonfiction books that relate to law.

Thomas M. Gallen is a retired circuit judge in Bradenton and former Florida state senator.