LAKE COUNTY, Fla. — Four men falsely accused of raping a white woman in Lake County more than 70 years ago were exonerated by a judge on Monday morning.
In 2017, the state legislature apologized to the Groveland Four and also recommended that they be exonerated.
Samuel Shepherd, Walter Irvin, Charles Greenlee and Ernest Thomas were pardoned by Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2019, and there has been a push for years to clear their names.
That finally happened on Monday when a judge granted their exoneration.
“This is a glory hallelujah day,” said Beverly Robinson, Samuel Shepherd’s cousin, at a news conference following the hearing.
Family members said the ruling made for a day they’d all been waiting for for more than 70 years.
“It’s a phenomenal final chapter, but the last page of the chapter is the one I like the most, it has only two words on it, “the end. The end,” Robinson said. “Decades of suffering.”
Last month, Lake County State Attorney Bill Gladson filed a motion asking a judge to dismiss the original indictments against Thomas and Shepherd and set aside the judgements and sentences handed out to Greenlee and Irvin.
Gladson cited new evidence. During the original trial, prosecutors infered that smears on Irvin’s pants were semen left behind from the rape, but never tested the pants.
Tests conducted in September showed no indication of semen.
All of the Groveland Four died prior to the exoneration.
“I look at the rain that came in as everything started and I’m wondering if there’s rain because those are tears that are coming from heaven,” said Aaron Newson, Thomas’ nephew.