Judge Clears Four Black Men Falsely Accused Of Rape After 72 Years

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The men, known as the Groveland Four, have been fully acquitted.

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Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP) — A judge on Monday officially acquitted four young African American men of false accusations that they raped a white woman seven decades ago, for one of the largest miscarriages of justice for Florida’s Jim Partial and late revision. Crow era.

At the request of the local prosecutor, Administrative Judge Heidi Davis dismissed the indictments of Ernest Thomas and Samuel Shepherd, who were fatally shot by law enforcement, and set aside the convictions and convictions of Charles Greenlee and Walter Irwin. The men, known as the Groveland Four, who were aged between 16 and 26 at the time, were accused of raping a woman in the Central Florida city of Groveland in 1949.

“We followed the evidence to see where it took us and it led us to this moment,” said local state attorney Bill Gladson, after a hearing at the same Lake County courthouse where the original trials took place. Gladson, a Republican, moved last month to officially acquit the men.

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The men’s families said that the case may be re-investigating other convicts of the Jim Crow era black men and women to clear the names of those who were falsely convicted.

“We are blessed. I hope this is a start because not many people have had this opportunity. Many families have not had the opportunity. Maybe they will,” said Aaron Newson, Thomas’ nephew. Wept bitterly. “This country needs to come together.”

Thomas was shot and killed more than 400 times shortly after being charged with rape. The local sheriff, Willis McCall, fatally shot Shepherd and wounded Irwin in 1951 after the US Supreme Court overturned his original conviction, saying no evidence had been presented. The sheriff claimed that the men tried to escape, but Irwin said that McCall and his deputy shot them in cold blood.

Gilbert King, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2012 book about the case, “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America,” at the hearing with Thurgood Marshall Jr.’s son ran away. Late US Supreme Court Justice.

Thurgood Marshall Sr., then with the NAACP, represented Irwin during his second trial, but an all-white jury again convicted him and was sentenced to death. Irwin narrowly escaped hanging in 1954, and Governor Leroy Collins commuted his sentence to life imprisonment with parole. Greenlee was also sentenced to life imprisonment, was placed on parole in 1962 and died in 2012. Irwin died in 1969, a year after parole.

King said that the men’s acquittal in the same building where the trials took place “was of vital importance because there was a courtroom upstairs where (a) the abhorrence of justice took place 72 years ago.” He praised Gladson for pursuing justice.

“He could have easily brought the matter on the road and let someone else deal with it,” King said. “Even when it got frustrating and he felt there was no way toward this day, he dug more.”

Marshall Jr. said that, perhaps more than any other case, the Groveland Four “haunted” his father.

“But he believed better days were ahead,” said Marshall Jr.

In 2017 the Florida Legislature formally apologized to the families of the men. Governor Ron DeSantis and the state’s three-member cabinet gave the posthumous pardon more than two years ago. In 2018, then-Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi directed the state law enforcement department to review the case. Earlier this year, the agency referred its findings to Gladson for its review.

Gladson and an investigator interviewed Jesse Hunter’s grandson, the now-defunct prosecutor of two of the Groveland four defendants. According to the grandson, Broward Hunter, his grandfather and a judge in the case knew there was no rape.

The grandson also suggested to Gladson, based on letters he received at his grandfather’s office in 1971, that Willis may have shot Shepherd and Irwin because of the sheriff’s involvement in an illegal gambling operation. Shepherd was also believed to have been involved in gambling operations, and Willis may have viewed the rape case as “a way to get some people on his list,” Hunter told the prosecutor and investigator.

Gladson also said that James Yates, a deputy who acted as the primary witness, possibly fabricated evidence, including a shoe cast.

The prosecutor sent Irwin’s pants to a crime lab in September to test for semen, something that was never done in Irwin’s trial, even though jurors were given the impression that the pants were stained. The result showed no evidence of semen, the motion said.

“The importance of this discovery cannot be overstated,” Gladson said in his proposal.

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