Groveland Four: Florida pardons 4 black men accused of 1949 Lake County rape

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Seventy years after four black men were accused of raping a teenager in Groveland, the Florida Board of Executive Clemency on Friday unanimously agreed to posthumously pardon the men.

The board, which comprises the governor, the attorney general, the agriculture commissioner and the chief financial officer, heard from Norma Padgett, the victim, and members of the accused men's families during Friday's meeting.

"I'm begging y'all not to give them pardon, because they done it," Padgett said Friday.

In 1949, Padgett, then 17, said she was raped and that her husband was assaulted, resulting in the quick arrests of the four black men.

Earnest Thomas was killed by an angry mob during a manhunt. Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin were shot by the controversial Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall after he said they tried to escape. Irvin survived, and he and Charles Greenlee spent much of their lives in prison after being convicted by an all-white jury.

Greenlee and Irvin were eventually paroled after serving lengthy prison sentences.

The case received renewed focus after U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Ron DeSantis and newly elected Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried spoke publicly about the need to posthumously pardon the men.

"While this action cannot right the wrong done to them many years ago, I hope that it will bring peace to their families and to their communities," DeSantis said Friday.

Thomas Greenlee, Charles Greenlee's son, said Friday that his father was denied due process.

"He was clearly convicted by a person who merely said that he did it," he said. "(In) the climate of the time -- of those times -- that's all they needed."

Beverly Robinson, Shepherd's cousin, defended his name Friday.

"It never happened," she said. "Padgett family: You all are lies."

Watch: Late journalist who fought racism in Groveland Four case posthumously honored

"I know she called me a liar, but I'm not a liar," Padgett said.

The Lake County Board of County Commissioners and all four Lake County constitutional officers recently wrote letters asking for the Groveland Four to be cleared.

Board Chairman Leslie Campione attended the clemency board meeting Friday.

"Our focus today was on the failure of the system at the time to ensure fairness and due process as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution," Campione said in a statement. "We talked about the brutality inflicted on the accused individuals and the importance of righting this wrong as much as we can as the current elected officials on behalf of the Lake County community at large, which is a loving, caring community."

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