Lake County

Exoneration could be coming for Groveland Four 70 years later

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Seventy years after four black men were wrongly accused of raping a white woman in Groveland, the men’s family members may soon get their wish.

State leaders are making the final push is to completely exonerate the men.

In addition to a bill calling for the Groveland Four to be fully exonerated, agriculture commissioner Nikki Fried also introduced a proclamation Tuesday calling on the state to make this right.

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

“History books should reflect the truth. The Groveland Four were falsely accused of crimes they never committed,” Fried said.

Earlier this year, newly elected Gov. Ron DeSantis posthumously pardoned the men. But a pardon just excuses someone’s crimes. An exoneration makes it clear no crime was ever committed.

In July 1949, Sheriff Willis McCall investigated claims from a 17-year-old girl who said she was kidnapped and raped on a dark stretch of road outside of Groveland.

Records show 22-year-olds Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin were beaten into confessing along with 16-year-old Charles Greenlee and Ernest Thomas. Thomas was 26 at the time he was shot to death by a sheriff’s posse when he tried to run.

Evidence later collected by the FBI and others showed inconsistencies in the young woman’s story. A medical report also did not confirm she was raped.

“We know that justice delayed is justice denied. I fully support this bill and I know the cabinet will in due time,” said Republican State Rep. Anthony Sabatini.

READ: New monument to honor The Groveland Four slated for Lake County

Sabatini joined Democratic State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, who has been asking for full exoneration since 2014, to announce the legislation.

“That’s what happens when you excuse the conduct of an individual who is guilty, you pardon them,” Thompson said. “But exoneration clears their name and acknowledges their innocence and that is why we are here today.”

Karla Ray

Karla Ray,

Karla Ray anchors Eyewitness News This Morning on Saturday and Sundays, and is an investigative reporter for the 9 Investigates unit.

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