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Four Black Men Wrongly Charged With Rape Exonerated More Than 70 Years Later

by : Hannah Smith on :
Four Black Men Wrongly Charged With Rape Exonerated More Than 70 Years LaterAlamy

Four Black men who were falsely accused of rape more than 70 years ago have been posthumously exonerated, after state prosecutors re-examining the case moved to dismiss the charges.

Known as the Groveland Four, Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas were accused of raping a 17-year-old white woman in Lake County, Florida in 1949, after the woman and her estranged husband claimed they had attacked her by the roadside after stopping to help them fix their car.

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Of the four men, only one survived past 1969. Ernest Thomas was killed by a lynch mob as he attempted to flee the county, while Shepherd died after being shot by the Lake County Sheriff on the way to a pre-trial hearing for a retrial of the case in 1951. Irvin, who was also shot by the sheriff, survived, but died in 1969 a year after being released from prison on parole. The fourth man – Greenlee, died in 2012 aged 78, having been just 16 when he was falsely accused.

Three of the Groveland Four (Alamy)Alamy

Following a decades-long campaign from their families, the four men were officially cleared of all charges this week, after Florida prosecutors ruled that the original case lacked due process and would not have met the standards necessary to be brought to trial today.

In a motion to dismiss the charges, state attorney Bill Gladson wrote: ‘I have not witnessed a more complete breakdown of the criminal justice system, nor do I ever expect I will again.

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‘These officials, disguised as keepers of the peace and masquerading as ministers of justice, disregarded their oaths, and set in motion a series of events that forever destroyed these men, their families and a community.’

Judge Heidi Davis set aside the judgements and sentences for Irvin and Greenlee, and dismissed the charges against Thomas and Shepherd, who died before they could face trial.

State official unveil Groveland Four monument (Alamy)Alamy

The formal decision comes two years after the men were granted posthumous pardons by Florida governor Ron DeSantis in 2019, and four years after the state officially apologised to the families of the accused.

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According to the New York Times, evidence provided by the grandson of Jesse Hunter – the state attorney who prosecuted the case – suggested he and the judge presiding over the case both knew that no rape had occurred.

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Hannah Smith

Hannah is a London-based journalist covering news and features for UNILAD. She's especially interested in social and political activism.

Topics: News, Florida, Now, Rape

Credits

The New York Times
  1. The New York Times

    Four Black Men Wrongly Charged With Rape Are Exonerated 72 Years Later