Four men known as the “Groveland Four” were cleared of the false accusation of raping a white woman in 1949.
Circuit Judge Heidi Davis cleared the four black men of their accused crime on Monday, after State Attorney Bill Gladson filed a petition to exonerate them last month of what he called a “complete rupture of the criminal justice system ”.
Judge Davis’ decision individually dismisses the indictments, overturns judgments and sentences, and corrects the case with newly uncovered evidence.
The men’s families sat in the courtroom on Monday with strong emotions over the ruling. Some applauded, others hugged and many shed tears.
More than seven decades ago, a 17-year-old white woman and her husband from rural Groveland, Florida claimed that four black men ambushed them and raped her when her husband’s car was driven over. broke down on a country road in 1949... Four men are quickly indicted: Ernest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin.
Before he could stand trial, Thomas was killed; shot more than 400 times by a local gang. Despite the scant evidence that black men committed the crime, the rest were quickly convicted during the Jim Crow era.
Greenlee, then 16, was sentenced to life in prison. Shepherd and Irvin were sentenced to death.
We all have a unique point of view:Sign up for This is America, a weekly take on news from reporters from a range of backgrou
The United States Supreme Court overturned their original convictions, saying no evidence had been presented. On the way to their second trial, a local sheriff shot Shepherd and injured Irvin in 1951. The sheriff claimed the men tried to escape, but Irvin said they were shot in cold blood.
Thurgood Marshall Sr., of the NAACP at the time, represented Irvin in his second trial. He was again sentenced to death by an all-white jury. Irvin narrowly escaped execution in 1954, and Florida Governor LeRoy Collins commuted his sentence to life in prison with parole in 1968. He died a year later, in 1969.
Greenlee, the youngest of the four, was paroled in 1962 and died in 2012.
Marshall Jr., the son of the late United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, said that perhaps more than any other case, the Groveland Four “haunted” his father.
“But he thought better days were ahead,” Marshall Jr. said.
The former Florida attorney general ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review the case in 2018, and state attorney Gladson began a comprehensive review shortly thereafter.
He gleaned from an interview with the prosecutor’s grandson that the prosecutor and the judge in the case probably knew there had been no rape. Gladson also said that an assistant who served as the primary witness likely fabricated evidence.
A key piece of evidence in the exemption centered around Irvin’s pants. Prosecutors claimed they were stained with semen, but in reality the pants were never tested in a criminal lab. After the pants were examined recently, the results showed no evidence of semen, according to Gladson’s motion.
“The evidence strongly suggests that a sheriff, judge and prosecutor have all but guaranteed guilty verdicts in this case,” says his petition to exonerate the four men. “These officials, disguised as peacekeepers and posing as ministers of justice, ignored their oaths and unleashed a series of events that forever destroyed these men, their families and a community.
The Florida legislature formally apologized to the men’s families in 2017, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis pardoned the Groveland Four in 2019. But a pardon always results in a charge of guilt.
New? To verify. Toupee? To verify.:Sign up for the only evening news summary you will ever need.
The exemption will completely erase the Groveland Four of their accused crime.
Carol Greenlee, Greenlee’s daughter, cried in the courtroom Monday.
“It’s been a long time coming,” she said, adding that she visited her father in prison and played in the prison yard when she was 3 years old.
Families of the men have said the case could trigger a re-examination of further convictions of falsely accused black men and women of the Jim Crow era.
The well-known case of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy who was lynched in Mississippi after being accused of offending a white woman, came six years after the Groveland Four charges.
“We are blessed. I hope this is a start because a lot of people have not had this opportunity,” said Aaron Newson, Thomas’ nephew, tearfully. “A lot of families haven’t had this opportunity. Maybe they will. This country needs to come together.
Contributing: Frank Fernandez, The Daytona Beach News-Journal; Frank Stanfield; Daily shopping; The Associated Press