Circuit Courtroom Choose Heidi Davis in Lake County, Florida, granted the State’s movement to posthumously dismiss the indictments of Ernest Thomas and Samuel Shepherd and vacated the convictions of Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin, within the case generally known as the “Groveland 4.”
“I’d not hate, however I’ll love and embrace all of those that didn’t know on the time that my father was a caring and loving and compassionate individual that didn’t rape anyone. I stand right here right this moment to say thanks,” mentioned an emotional Carol Greenlee, daughter of Charles Greenlee, in entrance of cameras at a press convention Monday morning following the court docket listening to.
In 1949, Greenlee, Irvin, Shepherd and Thomas have been accused of sexually assaulting Norma Padgett in Groveland, Florida, about 30 miles west of Orlando. The group got here to be known as the “Groveland 4.” The case was thought of one of many best miscarriages of justice in Jim Crow-era Florida.
There have been doubts about Padgett’s testimony from the onset, however within the period of Jim Crow, a jury convicted the lads with out proof of against the law.
“For 72 years the households have been residing with this and touring with this journey ready for right this moment,” mentioned Invoice Gladson, the state lawyer, after Monday’s listening to. Gladson, a Republican, moved final month to have the lads formally exonerated. Not one of the males are nonetheless alive.
Gladson mentioned the state sought justice as soon as they realized there was new proof.
“As soon as we discovered that proof, and it revealed what it revealed, that resulted within the movement that you just noticed right this moment,” he mentioned.
State Sen. Randolph Bracy, a Democrat, mentioned whereas the exoneration doesn’t “repair the racial injustice that’s so pervasive in our prison justice system,” the movement gave the household some closure and gives some hope.
“I imagine reckoning with the previous and correcting gross injustice does put us on a path to making a fairer extra equal court docket system,” he mentioned.
In 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued full posthumous pardons to the lads.
“For seventy years, these 4 males have had their historical past wrongly written for crimes they didn’t commit. As I’ve mentioned earlier than, whereas that’s a very long time to attend, it’s by no means too late to do the fitting factor,” DeSantis mentioned within the assertion on the time. “I imagine the rule of regulation is society’s sacred bond. When it’s trampled, all of us undergo. For the Groveland 4, the reality was buried. The Perpetrators celebrated. However justice has cried out from that day till this.”
The Florida Home issued a posthumous apology to the Groveland 4 in April 2017.
“As a state, we’re really sorry,” Rep. Chris Sprowls mentioned to the lads’s households, after lawmakers unanimously voted to exonerate them.
“The reminiscences cannot be erased, the ache they’ve endured cannot be mounted however right this moment we now have a possibility to supply closure to those households within the type of an apology,” Rep. Bobby DuBose, who sponsored the invoice that known as for his or her pardon.
A a long time lengthy chapter of injustice lastly closed
Padgett claimed that on the night time of July 16, 1949, her automobile broke down in Groveland. She mentioned the 4 males stopped and raped her. The boys have been arrested. Three of them have been tortured till police have been in a position to elicit a confession from two of them. Thomas, who managed to flee custody, was killed after a manhunt. Greenlee was sentenced to life in jail.
Shepherd and Irvin obtained the loss of life penalty. Whereas being transported from county jail for a retrial, the sheriff shot them each and claimed self-defense. Shepherd died on the scene and Irvin survived by taking part in useless. His sentence was later commuted to life in jail.
“We’d like braveness,” Aaron Newson, Ernst Thomas’ nephew, mentioned preventing off tears in entrance of cameras right this moment following the court docket listening to. “Lots of households didn’t get this chance, possibly they may. Perhaps that is the beginning of one thing good. I hope so. This nation wants to return collectively.”
CNN’s Dianne Gallagher contributed to this report.