Groveland Four granted pardons by Florida Clemency Board

Remigio Civitarese
Gennaio 13, 2019

The pardons of Samuel Shepherd, Walter Irvin, Charles Greenlee and Ernest Thomas - known as the Groveland Four - follow a long, violent story that had become symbolic of racial injustice in the state, and in Jim Crow America.

Florida's state government issued a "heartfelt apology" to the families of the four men and recommended their posthumous pardons in 2017.

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida is already mapping out his legacy. He was eventually found sleeping under a tree and shot 400 times.

Greenlee was sentenced to life in prison, and Irvin and Shepherd were sentenced to death. Other evidence that could have exonerated them - such as a doctor's conclusion that the teen probably wasn't raped - was withheld at their 1949 trial.

Thurgood Marshall, later the first African-American justice on the US Supreme Court, took up Irvin and Shepherd's appeals for the NAACP, and in 1951 the US Supreme Court ordered new trials.

Shortly before the trials began, local sheriff Willis McCall shot both men, killing Shepherd and severely injuring Irvin, who had been shot in the neck. Irvin survived by playing dead, and claimed after his recovery that McCall shot them in cold blood.

Irvin was retried, found guilty and once again sentenced to death, despite a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent testifying that the prosecution had manufactured evidence against the defendant. Later, a criminologist told a court that he thought law enforcement officers had manufactured forensic evidence in Irvin's case.

Irvin was released in 1968 and died two years later, of a heart attack, on a trip back to Lake County for a funeral. He died in 1969, a year after he was paroled.

The state's clemency board voted to posthumously pardon four men who were wrongly accused of raping a woman seventy years ago. Scott, now a U.S. senator, never took action. DeSantis replaced Scott on Tuesday and made the pardons a priority. "I'm begging y'all not to give the pardons because they did it. He was beaten. He was put in prison for a crime he never committed", Charles Greenlee said.

"You all just don't know what kind of horror I've been through for all these many years", Padgett Upshaw said.

"It never happened. You all are liars", said Beverly Robinson, a niece of one of the accused men.

It's now widely believed the Groveland Four were wrongly convicted.

Friday's discussions were originally indicated to be preliminary in nature, meant to allow the board, consisting of DeSantis, the new attorney general, Ashley Moody, chief financial officer, Jimmy Patronis, and agricultural commissioner, Nikki Fried, Florida's only statewide-elected Democrat, to "get a handle" on the case and plot a timeline. I also want to commend Senator Gary Farmer, Representative and former Senator Geraldine Thompson, and Representative Bobby DuBose, whose persistent legislative actions were the impetus for the outcome today.

Until now, Florida's executive clemency board, the state's only body with pardon-granting authority, had refused to address the Groveland case, despite a decades-long fight by the men's relatives and supporters to clear their names.

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