In 1949, Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas were accused of raping a 17-year-old girl named Norma Padgett in Lake County. A mob led by the local sheriff hunted down and fatally shot Mr Thomas. The other three men were arrested and convicted by all-white juries.
On Monday, a judge in Lake County officially dismissed the charges against all four men. The decision was announced by State Attorney Bill Gladson, who had filed a motion for the dismissal.
“Officials, disguised as keepers of the peace and masquerading as ministers of justice, disregarded their oaths, and set in motion a series of events that forever destroyed these men, their families, and a community,” Mr Gladson had said in his motion. “I have not witnessed a more complete breakdown of the criminal justice system.”
On Monday, the prosecutor said a judge had approved that motion.
“We followed the evidence to see where it led us, and it led us to this moment,” Mr Gladson told NBC News.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis had previously issued a posthumous pardon for the Groveland Four, none of whom are still alive. But a pardon does not technically refute guilt, which made the dismissal important for family members.
Mr Greenlee’s daughter, Carol Greenlee, welcomed the decision.
“I will not hate, but I will love and embrace all of those who did not know at the time that my father was a caring and loving compassionate person, that did not rape anybody,” Ms Greenlee said at a press conference.
The four men’s accuser, meanwhile, is still alive and maintains that they did in fact rape her.
“I’m not no liar,” Ms Padgett said at a clemency board hearing in 2019, the last time she spoke publicly. “If I had to go to court today I could tell you the same story that I told then.”
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