Four men -known as the Groveland Four – who were falsely accused of raping a white woman in 1949 have been posthumously exonerated. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the three-member cabinet also posthumously pardoned the men in 2019.
Prosecutors motioned to vacate the convictions of Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin and the charges against Ernest Thomas and Samuel Shepherd.
A judge has approved the State’s motion to dismiss the convictions of the Groveland Four. This overturns their wrongful and fabricated convictions from over 72 years ago. They are now innocent men in the eyes of the law @fox35orlando pic.twitter.com/HV0LbmnExu
— Dave Puglisi (@DavePuglisiTV) November 22, 2021
“We followed the evidence to see where it led us and it led us to this moment,” said State Attorney Bill Gladson. “For 72 years the families have been living with this and traveling with this journey waiting for today.”
Thomas’ nephew expressed similar hopeful sentiments with his uncle now being innocent in the eyes of the law.
“We are blessed. I hope that this is a start because a lot of people didn’t get this opportunity. A lot of families didn’t get this opportunity. Maybe they will,” said Aaron Newson, Thomas’ nephew, through tears. “This country needs to come together.”
Thomas was killed by a mob who shot him more than 400 times after he was accused of rape. The sheriff of Lake County at the time, Willis McCall, shot Shepherd and wounded Irvin as they were being transported to a second trial after the United States Supreme Court overturned their original convictions.
Irvin was represented by future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Sr., but Irvin was sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted, paroled in 1968, but died in 1969.
Greenlee was sentenced to life but was paroled in 1962, He died in 2012, and was the last surviving of the Groveland Four.
“As we near our Thanksgiving holiday, I want to say personally that I’m grateful for my position as the judge who has the unimaginable privilege of being able to grant the state’s motion,” said Fifth Circuit Judge Heidi Davis.
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