District Court Judge Heidi Davis in Lake County, Florida, granted a motion on Monday to dismiss Ernest Thomas and Samuel Shepherd’s indictments and quashed the convictions of Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin in a case known as the “Groveland Four.”
It concerns the alleged rape of 17-year-old Norma Padgett and the assault on her husband on July 16, 1949 in Groveland. From the outset, there were doubts about the victim’s testimony, but nevertheless black men were convicted without sufficient evidence.
One of the biggest system errors
The case was found to be one of Florida’s worst judiciary errors. All the wrongly convicted men are dead.
“Their families have held this sentence for 72 years, until today,” said Bill Gladson, the state attorney.
– I do not harbor hatred, but I will forgive all those who did not know then that my father was a caring and compassionate person who did not rape anyone. I’m standing here today to say thank you, Carol Greenlee, daughter of Charles Greenlee, said at a press conference on Monday.
Senator Randolph Bracy, a Democrat, stressed that an exoneration “will not correct the racial injustice pervasive in our judicial system.”
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“I believe that dealing with the past and remedying gross injustice puts us on the way to creating a fairer, more equal judicial system,” he added.
“It is never too late”
In 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis posthumously pardoned men.
For seventy years, these four men had a misspelled history of crimes they did not commit. As I said before, it’s never too late to do the right thing, DeSantis was saying at the time.
Their fate is described in the book
Padgett claimed that her car broke down in Groveland on the night of July 16, 1949. It was then that four men were supposed to rape her. The suspects were arrested. Three of them were tortured until the police forced two to testify. Thomas, who managed to escape from custody, died in a manhunt.
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Greenlee was sentenced to life imprisonment, and Shepherd and Irvin were sentenced to death. While being transported from the county prison for a retrial, a police officer shot both of them, claiming he was acting in self-defense. Shepherd was killed instantly, and Irvin survived by pretending to be dead. His sentence was later changed to life imprisonment.
Gilbert King described the case in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America.
ac / heat / CNN