Groveland Four officially exonerated after more than 70 years

By: - November 22, 2021 3:40 pm

Three of the Groveland Four. Left to right: Sheriff Willis McCall, jailer Reuben Hatcher, Walter Irvin, Charles Greenlee, and Samuel Shepherd. Not pictured: Ernest Thomas, killed earlier by law enforcement. Library of Congress photo, published in the book “Devil in the Grove.”

Four young Black men falsely accused of raping a white woman more than 70 years ago in Florida — were exonerated Monday.

Known as the Groveland Four, the cases became a travesty of justice that has marred Florida’s history.

Here are excerpts from the Associated Press report:

“A judge on Monday officially exonerated four young African American men of the false accusation that they raped a white woman seven decades ago, making partial and belated amends for one of the greatest miscarriages of justice of Florida’s Jim Crow era.

“At the request of the local prosecutor, Administrative Judge Heidi Davis dismissed the indictments of Ernest Thomas and Samuel Shepherd, who were fatally shot by law enforcement, and set aside the convictions and sentences of Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin. The men known as the Groveland Four, who ranged from 16 to 26 at the time, were accused of raping a woman in the central Florida town of Groveland in 1949.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state’s clemency board gave pardons in January 2019 to the “Groveland Four”– Black men wrongly accused of raping a 17-year-old white woman in Lake County in 1949.

But despite the pardons, the case was still not over for the four men, now deceased  – Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas.

In late October, State Attorney William Gladson, of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of Florida, announced that he had filed motions to dismiss the indictments of Thomas and Shepherd; set aside judgments and sentences of Greenlee and Irvin and “correct the record with newly discovered evidence,” according to a press release.

On Monday, Gladson said in the AP report:  “We followed the evidence to see where it led us and it led us to this moment.”

State Rep. Kamia Brown, a Democrat representing Orange County, said in a statement:

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.