Almost 70 years ago, four black men were wrongly accused of abducting and raping a white teenaged girl. On Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued full posthumous pardons to Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, who came to be known as the “Groveland Four” and who, in 1949, were convicted of raping 17-year-old Norma Padgett, even though there was no evidence of a crime.
The alleged victim, Padgett, is still alive and stands by her testimony. Friday, she opposed the pardons, imploring DeSantis not to grant them. As CNN reports, “the clemency panel, which was composed of top officials including the attorney general, praised the work of campaigners before issuing the pardons.”
After the alleged rape, more than one thousand men tracked down Thomas, shooting him hundreds of times. The other men were beaten in custody and later convicted by all-white juries in the Jim Crow state. A sheriff later shot and killed Shepherd as he was en route to a retrial. Greenlee was sentenced to life in prison, and Irvin — who was also shot by the sheriff who killed Shepherd, but survived by playing dead — received the death penalty, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison.
In his statement pardoning the men, DeSantis said the Groveland Four “have had their history wrongly written for crimes they did not commit.” He went on:
“As I have said before, while that is a long time to wait, it is never too late to do the right thing. I believe the rule of law is society’s sacred bond. When it is trampled, we all suffer. For the Groveland Four, the truth was buried. The Perpetrators celebrated. But justice has cried out from that day until this.”
DeSantis, who said during his campaign that he would prioritize this case, issued the pardons during his first week in office. He was just inaugurated on Tuesday.