The Phoenix Flyer

State Attorney pushes to set the record straight on wrongly-accused “Groveland Four”

By: - October 25, 2021 5:43 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.”

In a travesty of justice that has marred Florida’s history, 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 is still not over for the four men, now deceased  – Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas.

Monday, State Attorney William Gladson, of the Fifth Judicial Circuit of Florida, announced that he has 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.

From the release, Gladson stated in his motion:

“Even a casual review of the record reveals that these four men were deprived of the fundamental due process rights that are afforded to all Americans. The evidence strongly suggests that a sheriff, a judge, and a prosecutor all but guaranteed guilty verdicts in this case. These officials….set in motion a series of events that forever destroyed these men, their families and a community…I have not witnessed a more complete breakdown of the criminal justice system.”

The press release on Monday did not include the contents of the full motion.

The motion will be heard in Lake County Circuit Court.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, an elected Cabinet member who also sits on the Clemency Board, provided a statement:

“Today, our state is one step closer to righteous justice for the four wrongly-accused men of Groveland. Before even taking office, I pledged to pursue the innocence of the Groveland Four as a member of Florida’s Clemency Board. Through their pardons in 2019 and continued pressure for their exoneration, and through the prayers of their families and the relentless quest for the truth, this motion will make clear that Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas suffered a racist miscarriage of justice for more than seventy years for crimes they never committed.”

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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 spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.