Groveland Four: Black men wrongly convicted of raping white Florida woman in 1949 exonerated by judge

Florida

In this undated image released by the State Library and Archives of Florida, Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall, far left, and an unidentified man stand next to Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Charles Greenlee, from left, in Florida. The three men along with a fourth were charged with rape in 1949. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and a Cabinet granted posthumous pardons Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, to Shepherd, Irvin, Charles Greenlee and Ernest Thomas, the four African-American men accused of raping a white woman in 1949 in a case now seen as a racial injustice. (State Library and Archives of Florida via AP)

ORLANDO, Fla. (WESH) — On Monday, a judge exonerated the “Groveland Four,” a group of men accused of raping a woman more than 70 years ago.

Ernest Thomas, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin were all accused of raping a white woman in 1949 and sentenced to death.

They were officially pardoned by Gov. Ron DeSantis back in 2019. However, a pardon does not remove the doubt or inference of guilt, making Monday’s dismissal of charges significant.

The state attorney said the case was based on fabricated evidence and called it a criminal conspiracy between the sheriff and his deputies.

What happened in 1949 has been described by some as racist terrorism.

After being accused of raping a white woman in Groveland that year, Thomas was shot and killed by a group days later. Three other Black men were convicted by an all-white jury.

In 1951, two of the men, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin, were shot by the sheriff while he drove them to court for a retrial. Shepherd died but Irvin survived, and along with Charles Greenlee. They were convicted again by an all-white jury.

The pair spent years in prison.

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