Gilbert King’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Devil in the Grove” book helped posthumously pardon The Groveland Four, Black men wrongly accused of raping a white woman and beating her husband in Lake City in 1949.
Now, the Brooklyn resident and former University of South Florida student is using a different medium to shed light on what he claims is another miscarriage of justice.
Leo Schofield, 56, is serving a life sentence for the 1987 Lakeland murder of his wife.
King believes his nine-part Bone Valley podcast, named for the Central Florida region known for prehistoric fossils, proves Leo Schofield’s innocence.
Two episodes will drop on Sept. 21, then one will be released each week after on Wednesdays.
It will be available through lavaforgood.com and most podcast platforms.
“I don’t believe Leo Schofield should be spending one more day in prison,” King said. “I feel we corrected the narrative.”
Part of his narrative may sound familiar to those who have followed the case.
King claims that Jeremy Scott, who already is serving a life sentence for an unrelated Polk County murder, killed Michelle Schofield.
In 2016, Scott confessed to the Michelle Schofield murder but recanted a year later as the assistant state attorney pointed out discrepancies in his story.
But Scott went on the record with a more detailed confession through a two-hour podcast interview and written correspondence, King said. “He was really remorseful. He told me this has tortured him. We got him to sit down and tell his story.”
What’s more, he said, Scott confesses to another unsolved Florida murder.
King was coy when pressed for details. The curious, he said, will have to listen to the podcast.
“We are not just reinvestigating Leo Schofield and that murder,” King said. “The podcast is taking us into who Jeremy Scott is, his level of violence, the murder and rapes. Everything he was doing fits what we think he did to Michelle Schofield.”
In all, King estimates that he and podcast cohost and research partner Kelsey Decker interviewed more than 150 people connected to the case, including Leo Schofield.
“We have hundreds of hours of audio that we narrowed down to nine for the podcast,” King said. “By the end of the podcast, it’s going to be convincing to just about everyone that Leo was wrongly convicted.”
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According to news archives:
Michelle Schofield was last seen alive leaving work from a burger drive-in on the night of Feb. 24, 1987. Her Mazda was found on the side of Interstate-4 in Lakeland and the 18-year-old’s body was discovered seven miles away in a canal. She had been stabbed 26 times.
Leo Schofield was arrested and charged, though no physical evidence tied him to the crime.
The case hinged on one witness, who testified that she heard screaming from the Schofields’ trailer the night the wife disappeared and later saw the husband carrying a heavy object outside.
That and other witnesses portraying Leo Schofield as an abusive husband were enough for the jury to convict him of first-degree murder. But Leo Schofield maintained his innocence, pointing to unidentified fingerprints in his wife’s car as proof.
Then, in 2004, new technology allowed the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to test those fingerprints. They belonged to Scott, who was in prison for a 1989 murder.
Scott first claimed he’d only robbed the Mazda, but later said he murdered Michelle Schofield and then changed his story again.
“No, no, I didn’t do that,” Scott testified in court in 2017.
So why does King believe that Scott told him the truth?
“The way he talks about it in detail, about how she didn’t deserve this and she was nice, she just gave him a ride and he was just going to rob her and steal her car,” King said. “There is no way this guy’s lying about this. He has a 78 IQ. He’s not a mastermind criminal.”
King also believes Leo Schofield.
“I interviewed him eight or nine times,” he said. “If I found out Leo was misleading in one way, I’d have walked away from this. But everything he told me has checked out.”
King has authored three books but is best known for 2012′s “Devil In the Grove,” which exposed the racism and corruption that led to four Black men being unjustly accused of rape. The book is credited with bringing renewed scrutiny to the case, leading to a 2019 pardon.
By then, he already was investigating the Leo Schofield case.
In 2018, after a public speaking engagement, someone in the crowd approached him. King said the man identified himself as previously being associated with the investigation.
“He told me that Leo is an innocent man,” King said. “And he went on to tell me all about the case.”
King initially thought he would write an article or book.
“But then I found that everybody we wanted to talk to was still alive and willing to talk,” he said. “And I thought we should just let them tell their stories. So, we switched to a podcast. It is tightly woven narrative. It’s similar to a book, except you’re hearing the voices and you’re hearing the atmosphere. It’s compelling.”