The Groveland Four have officially been pardoned for the alleged rape of a white woman in 1949.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the state’s three-member Cabinet granted the four Black men accused of raping Norma Padgett, who was 17 when she made the accusation, posthumous pardons Friday (January 11).
DeSantis called the case “a miscarriage of justice.” “I don’t know that there’s any way you can look at this case and think that those ideals of justice were satisfied,” the governor said. “Indeed, they were perverted, time and time again.”
That injustice affected the Groveland Four, which consisted of Samuel Shepherd, Walter Irvin, Charles Greenlee, and Ernest Thomas. Padgett did not retract her statement of being raped. She claimed she was abducted and raped by four Black men after her car broke down.
Greenlee, Irvin, and Shepherd were charged, imprisoned and beaten the same night in the basement of a county jail. Thomas attempted to escape but was shot dead before being either charged or tried. Greenlee was sentenced to life in prison by an all-white jury. Irvin and Shepherd, who both served in World War II, were sentenced to death.
The case was eventually taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, which resulted in a retrial. Before the second trial could begin though, Lake County, Florida Sheriff Willis McCall drove the two handcuffed men into the countryside and shot them. Irvin ended up wounded while Shepherd died at the scene. McCall claimed self-defense.
Irvin, who was represented by Thurgood Marshall, would be sentenced to death again. That sentence was later commuted to life in prison. He died in 1969 after being released on parole for a year. Greenlee was released from prison in 1962 and passed away in 2012 at age 78.
Photo: Wallace Kirkland/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images
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