Posted: 23 Nov 2021 05:45 GMT
Some relatives of those exonerated were present at the hearing on Monday to see how justice was served more than seven decades later.
A Lake County (Florida, USA) circuit judge has formally exonerated the four African Americans known as the ‘Groveland Four’ who were falsely accused in 1949 of raping a white teenager.
Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas were then between 16 and 26 years old, when 17-year-old Norma Padgett accused them of raping her in the town of Groveland, reports NBC News.
Padgett argued in their lawsuit that she and her husband were returning home in their car, when they were attacked by the four men, who allegedly kidnapped her and then raped at gunpoint. Following these allegations, the Groveland community fell into chaos: a mob led by Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall found Thomas asleep in a swamp and shot him more than 400 times.
Meanwhile, Greenlee, Irvin and Shepherd were arrested and later sentenced by all-white juries. However, Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first African-American Supreme Court Justice, helped Irvin and Shepherd get their cases reexamined.
Riddled and convicted
In 1951, the same Sheriff McCall opened fire on both of them while they were being transferred for a hearing in the framework of the revision of their convictions. McCall killed Shepherd and wounded Irvin, but claimed that the defendants had tried to escape.
Despite the claim and statements by an FBI official about the fabrication of the accusations, Irvin was sentenced to capital punishment. He was released on parole in 1968 and died a year later. As for Greenlee, he was sentenced to life in prison, was released on parole in 1962, and lived until 2012.
In 2017, the Florida legislature formally apologized to the families of the ‘Groveland Four’. Two years later, Governor Ron DeSantis issued posthumous clemency, while the state Bureau of Investigation launched a review of the matter.
Thus, Attorney Bill Gladson spoke with Broward Hunter, grandson of Jesse Hunter, the prosecutor who investigated the alleged crime, who indicated that his grandfather and a judge in charge of the case believed that no violation occurred. As part of the investigation, Gladson tested Irvin’s underpants in a laboratory, but found no semen samples, although the members of the jury were convinced otherwise.
Reaction of relatives
Some relatives of those exonerated were present at the hearing on Monday to verify how justice was served more than seven decades later. “I hope that this is a start, because many people did not have this opportunity. Many families did not have this opportunity, “said Aaron Newson, Thomas’s nephew, as quoted by the New York Post.
Carol Greenlee, daughter of Charles Greenlee, burst into tears and fell into the arms of those close to her when the judge formally dropped the charges. “If you know something is correct, you have to defend it,” he later declared.