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Four black men were exonerated after being wrongfully accused of raping a white teen girl for more than 70 years.

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Four black men were exonerated after being wrongfully accused of raping a white teen girl for more than 70 years.

Four black men were exonerated after being wrongfully accused of raping a white teen girl for more than 70 years.

The relatives of the “Groveland Four” received some relief on Monday when Florida cleared four young Black males of raping a 17-year-old White girl in 1949.

Of the case known as the “Groveland Four,” Circuit Court Judge Heidi Davis in Lake County, Florida, granted the State’s motion to posthumously dismiss the indictments of Ernest Thomas and Samuel Shepherd and vacated the convictions of Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin.

“I would not hate, but I will love and embrace all of those who did not know at the time that my father was a caring and loving and compassionate person that did not rape anybody. I stand here today to say thank you,” said an emotional Carol Greenlee, daughter of Charles Greenlee, in front of cameras at a press conference Monday morning following the court hearing.

In 1949, Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas were accused of sexually assaulting Norma Padgett in Groveland, Florida, about 30 miles west of Orlando. The group came to be called the “Groveland Four.” The case was considered one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in Jim Crow-era Florida.

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There were doubts about Padgett’s testimony from the onset, but in the era of Jim Crow, a jury convicted the men without evidence of a crime.

“For 72 years the families have been living with this and traveling with this journey waiting for today,” said Bill Gladson, the state attorney, after Monday’s hearing. Gladson, a Republican, moved last month to have the men officially exonerated. None of the men are still alive.

Gladson said the state sought justice once they realized there was new evidence.

 

“Once we found that evidence, and it revealed what it revealed, that resulted in the motion that you saw today,” he said.

In 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued full posthumous pardons to the men.

“For seventy years, these four men have had their history wrongly written for crimes they did not commit. As I have said before, while that is a long time to wait, it is never too late to do the right thing,” DeSantis said in the statement at the time. “I believe the rule of law is society’s sacred bond. When it is trampled, we all suffer. For the Groveland Four, the truth was buried. The Perpetrators celebrated. But justice has cried out from that day until this.”

The Florida House issued a posthumous apology to the Groveland Four in April 2017.

“As a state, we’re truly sorry,” Rep. Chris Sprowls said to the men’s families, after lawmakers unanimously voted to exonerate them.

“The memories can’t be erased, the pain they’ve endured can’t be fixed but today we have an opportunity to provide closure to these families in the form of an apology,” Rep. Bobby DuBose, who sponsored the bill that called for their pardon.

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A chapter of injustice that had been open for decades was finally closed.

Padgett stated that her car broke down near Groveland on the night of July 16, 1949. She claimed that four males approached her and raped her. The two men were apprehended. Three of them were tortured until authorities were able to coerce two of them into confessing. After a manhunt, Thomas, who had eluded capture, was killed. Greenlee was given a life sentence.

Shepherd and Irvin received the death penalty. While being transported from county jail for a retrial, the sheriff shot them both and claimed self-defense. Shepherd died at the scene and Irvin survived by playing dead. His sentence was later commuted to life in prison.

Written by Sheila

I love being a staff writer at Afromambo.com.I hold Diploma in Business Management .When I'm not writing, I'm busy gardening or picking up after my kids, or running after them! My biggest passion, next to my precious children, is writing and sharing Entertainment News and Information that matters with people online!

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