After 70 years of being falsely accused of rape, four African-American men have been granted posthumous pardons by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Florida Board of Executive Clemency, reports NBC News.
The four men, who have been dubbed by the media as the Groveland Four — named after the city where the rape had allegedly taken place — were all accused of raping a 17-year-old white woman in 1949.
The accused were not present at the clemency hearing — seeing as all four are now deceased — though the families of the men were present for the hour-long meeting. As NBC News details, the families explained to both DeSantis and the three-member cabinet that no rape had taken place, backing up this claim with plentiful evidence.
The alleged victim, now wheelchair-bound, was present at the proceedings and insisted that the rape did occur. She recounted how she was forcefully pulled from her car and held at gunpoint, with the accused warning her not to scream, else they would kill her.
Unsurprisingly, things got heated between the accuser and the families of the Groveland Four. At one point, Beverly Robinson, a niece of one of the accused, was testifying to the board when she directly addressed the accuser and her family.
“It never happened. You all are liars,” Robinson stated.
“That’s enough out of you,” the woman replied.
“I know it’s enough out of me. It’s always enough when you’re telling the truth,” Robinson countered.
The pardonings help to close the book on events which date back 70 years. In 1949, a 17-year-old white woman (whose identity is not being disclosed in this article) and her husband claimed that she was attacked by four young black men in Groveland, Florida. The woman said that she was held against her will and raped, while her husband was assaulted.
Charles Greenlee, 16; Ernest Thomas, 16; Walter Irvin, 22; and Samuel Shepherd, 22, were identified as suspects by local law enforcement. Thomas, who fled Groveland, was later found and killed by a posse — appointed by Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall — several days later. At the time, police officers reported that Thomas was armed and that he had reached for his firearm.
Shepherd, Irvin, and Greenlee were arrested, and while in custody, all three were brutally beaten by law enforcement in order to obtain confessions. The three were then found guilty in court, by an all-white jury. In 1951, Sheriff Willis McCall opened fire at both Irvin and Shepherd, claiming they had tried to escape custody while being transported to trial. Shepherd died immediately, while Irvin survived, telling the FBI that he had been shot in cold blood by McCall and his deputy.
Irvin was convicted again in a second trial and was sentenced to death. In 1955, he was commuted to life and was paroled in 1968. He died a year later. Greenlee was paroled in 1962 and died in 2012.
Medical evidence — which suggested that the alleged victim had not been raped at all — was not introduced at trial.