Florida governor pardons ‘Groveland Four,’ wrongly convicted of rape in 1949

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

"Groveland Four" Pardoned 70 Years After Accusations Of Rape

And on Friday, the state's clemency board voted to posthumously pardon all four men - Ernest Thomas, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin.

When a white woman claimed she was raped by four young black men outside Groveland in 1949, the Ku Klux Klan torched black neighborhoods and four men were falsely accused. According to the Innocence Project, documents from the case revealed that there was no evidence of a sexual assault. In addition to the documents, no physical evidence of the men's involvement was presented in court, including a medical examination of the accuser.

Shepherd and Irvin, friends and Army veterans, were sentenced to death, but the U.S. Supreme Court later overturned their convictions and ordered a retrial.

Thomas was hunted down by a posse of more than 1,000 men shortly after the alleged incident and was shot hundreds of times.

Thurgood Marshall, who was with the NAACP at the time and would eventually become the first black Supreme Court justice, secured new trials on appeal for Irvin and Shepherd.

But just before those trials began, Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall shot Irvin and Shepherd, claiming the handcuffed men tried to escape as he transferred him from prison to a jail. He survived despite being denied an ambulance ride because of his skin color. Shepherd died of his injuries.

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Irvin was retried, found guilty and once again sentenced to death, despite a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent testifying that the prosecution had manufactured evidence against the defendant. Despite this, Irvin was convicted a second time for the rape.

According to the Orange County Regional History Center, Norma Padgett and her husband claimed that, while their vehicle was broken down at road-side, four men stopped to help but eventually took the auto as well as Padgett. He died in 1969, a year after he was paroled.

Irvin was paroled in 1968 and found dead in his auto while returning to Lake County for a funeral a year later.

The pardons were unanimously approved by the Executive Clemency Board, a release from the new governor's office says.

She said she did not want the men pardoned.

The alleged victim maintained on Friday that she was not a liar and opposed the pardons before they were granted.

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Padgett, now 86, says she was dragged from her auto and told not to speak while the men pointed a gun to her head, threatening to "blow [her] brains out".

"It never happened. You all are liars", said Beverly Robinson, a niece of one of the accused men.

The former governor of Florida, Rick Scott, had rejected calls to pardon the men, even as the state legislature, Lake County and city of Groveland issued apologies to the men and their families.

Ron DeSantis and the state Cabinet granted posthumous pardons Friday to four African-American men accused of raping a white woman almost 70 years ago in a case now seen as a racial injustice.

After hearing testimony from family members of the men and Padgett herself, now in her late 80s, newly-inaugurated Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said this case was a "miscarriage of justice" and that the "only appropriate thing to do is to grant pardons".

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