FL pardons ‘Groveland Four’ 70 years after false rape convictions

In this undated image released by the State Library and Archives of Florida, Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall, far left, and an unidentified man stand next to Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Charles Greenlee, from left, in Florida. The three men along with a fourth were charged with rape in 1949. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and a Cabinet granted posthumous pardons Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, to Shepherd, Irvin, Charles Greenlee and Ernest Thomas, the four African-American men accused of raping a white woman in 1949 in a case now seen as a racial injustice. (State Library and Archives of Florida via AP)

In July of 1949, a 17-year-old white girl named Norma Padgett accused four black men of kidnapping and raping her in a vehicle on a dark road in Groveland, Florida.

Many believed Padgett’s story was fabricated to cover for her husband who was allegedly abusing her.

Despite this and the lack of evidence, two men were wrongfully convicted of the crime while the other two men accused were killed before their trial.

The case became known as the ‘Groveland Four’ and even inspired a Pulitzer Prize-winning book.

The case occurred during the ‘Jim Crow South era’ and has been considered one of the greatest “racial injustices” in the history of Florida.

In 2017, the state of Florida formally apologized to the families of the four men.

Friday, governor Ron DeSantis issued full posthumous pardons to all four of the men who include Ernest Thomas, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee, and Walter Irvin.

“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 a statement. “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 pardons were unanimously approved by the Executive Clemency Board, according to a release from the new governor’s office.

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