(Trends Wide) — The families of the “Groveland Four” managed to bring their decades-long struggle to a close on Monday, after a Florida judge officially exonerated the four young black men wrongly accused of raping a 17-year-old white girl in 1949.
Lake County, Florida Circuit Court Judge Heidi Davis accepted the State’s motion to posthumously dismiss the charges of Ernest Thomas and Samuel Shepherd and overturned the convictions of Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin, in the case known as the Los “Four from Groveland.”
“I do not hate, but I will love and hug all those who did not know at the time that my father was a caring, loving and compassionate person who did not rape anyone. I am here today to thank you,” said Carol Greenlee, daughter of Charles Greenlee. , in front of the cameras at a press conference this Monday morning after the court hearing.
Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas were charged in 1949 with sexually assaulting Norma Padgett in Groveland, Florida, about 50 km west of Orlando. The group became known as the “Groveland Four.” The case was considered one of the biggest judicial errors of the Jim Crow era in Florida.
There were doubts about Padgett’s testimony from the beginning, but in the Crow era a jury convicted the men without evidence of a crime.
“For 72 years families have been living and traveling this journey looking forward to today,” said Bill Gladson, the state’s attorney, after Monday’s hearing. Gladson, a Republican, ushered in last month for the men to be officially exonerated. None of these four men are still alive.
Gladson said the state sought justice once they realized there was new evidence. “Once we found that evidence, and revealed what it revealed, it resulted in the motion that you saw today,” he said.
In 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis granted full posthumous pardons to the men.
“For 70 years, the records of these four men had been wrongly written for crimes they did not commit. As I have said before, although it is a long time to wait, it is never too late to do the right thing,” DeSantis said in a statement at that time. moment. “I believe that law is the sacred bond of society. When it is trampled on, we all suffer. For the ‘Groveland Four’, the truth was buried. The perpetrators celebrated. But justice has cried out from that day until today.”
The Florida House of Representatives issued a posthumous apology to the “Groveland Four” in April 2017.
“As a state, we are very sorry,” Rep. Chris Sprowls told the men’s families after lawmakers voted unanimously to exonerate them.
“The memories cannot be erased, the pain they have endured cannot be fixed, but today we have the opportunity to close these families in the form of an apology,” said Rep. Bobby DuBose, who sponsored the bill he called for. your forgiveness.
A chapter of decades of injustice finally closes
Padgett claimed that on the night of July 16, 1949, his car broke down in Groveland. She said the four men stopped and raped her. The men were arrested. Three of them were tortured until the police were able to obtain a confession from two of them. Thomas, who managed to escape from custody, was killed after a manhunt. Greenlee was sentenced to life in prison.
Shepherd and Irvin received the death penalty. While being transported from the county jail for a retrial, the sheriff shot both of them and argued it was self-defense. Shepherd died at the scene of the crime and Irvin survived by playing dead. Subsequently, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
Gilbert King wrote about the case in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America.”
“We need courage,” said Aaron Newson, Ernst Thomas’ nephew, fighting back tears in front of the cameras Monday after the court hearing. “Many families did not have this opportunity, maybe they do. Maybe this is the beginning of something good. I hope so. This country needs to come together.”