It has been 72 years since three black men and one teenager in Groveland, Florida was accused of kidnapping and raping a 17-year-old white teenage girl at gunpoint. Now, seven decades later, the four men have been exonerated by a Lake County Judge.
The four accused, Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas have all died since then.
Similar to the case of Emmett Till, the claims sparked a manhunt for the men accused of the crimes. It also started an incursion of violence against Black people who lived in the area and led to the murder of Ernest Thomas, who was shot by the mob after the accusations. This caused the lead attorney for the NAACP at the time, Thurgood Marshall, to take up the case and the National Guard to step in to ease the violence per the report from NBC News.
Four years ago, Florida apologized to the four men for being wrongly convicted of rape. Two years ago, they were posthumously pardoned by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Now, they have been fully exonerated and their cases have now been dismissed.
From NBC News:
Bill Gladson, a local prosecutor, set the extraordinary move into motion last month when he filed paperwork to toss Thomas’ and Shepherd’s indictments and set aside the sentences and judgments imposed on Greenlee and Irvin.
“We followed the evidence to see where it led us, and it led us to this moment,” Gladson said at a news conference following the judge’s decision.
Carol Greenlee, the daughter of Charles Greenlee, who at 16 was the youngest of the suspects, wept and fell into the arms of those next to her as a judge formally dismissed the charges...
In an earlier statement, Carol Greenlee said that despite proclamations from the governor and the state Legislature and a monument dedicated in honor of the Groveland Four, the families were awaiting “full justice” from the judicial branch to feel vindicated.
As they should.
Although it’s great that the “Groveland four” have now been exonerated, it’s a shame that it took over 70 years to do so. Just like in the case of Emmett Till, this case showed the need to protect white women even if that meant ignoring the facts and fabricating the evidence.
As a result, none of these men were alive to see themselves as totally free men able to live their lives as they pleased. And the people who are responsible for this mishandling of justice have not had to face any consequences or ramifications.
From NBC News:
Padgett had said the couple’s car had stalled as they drove home from the dance when they were confronted by the four Black men who attacked her husband before abducting and raping her.
Following her accusations, a mob of hundreds of white men led by Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall tracked Thomas to a swamp, where they found him asleep and shot him more than 400 times. Meanwhile, Greenlee, Irvin and Shepherd were arrested and later convicted by all-white juries…
In 1951, while Irvin and Shepherd were being transported, McCall shot the men, claiming they tried to escape. Shepherd, a World War II veteran, was killed, but Irvin survived and was convicted even though an FBI agent testified that prosecutors manufactured evidence against the men.
According to the report from NBc News, Irvin initially received the death penalty, but his sentence got commuted to serve life in prison and was paroled in 1968. He then died the next year. Greenlee was paroled in 1962 and died in 2012.
These are all very frustrating facts that happened. But many of the criminal cases during the Jim Crow and Civil Rights era must be revisited. I’m sure there are many other cases where Black men and women were not given a fair trial and as a result, they had to face mortal consequences or spent years in prison.
As a result, there are many other Black men and women who deserve to be exonerated for the crimes they did not commit.