After 72 Years, Groveland Four Are Cleared

Partial amends made in one of Florida's greatest miscarriages of justice
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 23, 2021 2:30 AM CST
After 72 Years, Judge Clears Groveland Four
Relatives of the Groveland Four, from left, Vivian Shepherd, niece of Sam Shepherd, Gerald Threat, nephew of Walter Irvin; Carol Greenlee, daughter of Charles Greenlee, gather at the just-unveiled monument in front of the Old Lake County courthouse in Tavares, Fla., Feb. 21, 2020.   (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

The four Black men convicted of rape in a case now seen as a blight on Florida's history have been effectively exonerated, 72 years after the Jim Crow-era incident. The "Groveland Four," as they became known, were accused of abducting and raping a white teen girl at gunpoint in 1949 and three of the four were found guilty by all-white juries (the fourth was killed by an angry mob before the case went to trial), but prosecutorial misconduct and fabricated evidence later came to light. A circuit court judge in Lake County on Monday cleared the charges against Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, all of whom are dead, NBC News reports. The men had previously been issued posthumous pardons by the state.

Local prosecutor Bill Gladson last month filed paperwork to dismiss Thomas' and Shepherd's indictments and set aside Greenlee's and Irvin's convictions and sentences, after an investigation in which he spoke to a grandson of the original case's prosecutor and learned from him that that prosecutor and a judge knew the crime did not actually occur. Gladson also had a crime lab test Irvin's pants and found no evidence of semen—though jurors at his trial were led to believe there had been some—and he found that other evidence, including shoe casts, was likely faked. The men's families say they hope this will spark investigations into other Jim Crow-era convictions of Black people, the AP reports. The accuser, Norma Padgett, who is now in her 80s, last spoke publicly about the case in 2019, when she asked the state not to pardon the men. (More Florida stories.)

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