Florida pardons 4 accused in 1949 rape
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the independently elected three-member Cabinet granted a pardon to four African-American men accused of raping a white woman nearly 70 years ago.
The posthumous pardons were granted Friday for the men — Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas — known as the Groveland Four.
The Lake County men were accused of the 1949 rape under dubious circumstances. Three of the men were arrested and severely beaten; Thomas, fled. He was hunted down by a posse of about 1,000 men and shot more than 400 times.
The others were convicted.
After the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a new trial in 1951, a sheriff shot Irvin and Shepherd, claiming the handcuffed men were trying to escape. Shepherd died.
Irvin was paroled in 1968 and found dead in his car while returning to Lake County for a funeral a year later. Greenlee was paroled in 1960 and died in 2012.
In 2017, the House and Senate voted unanimously to formally apologize to the men’s families and asked then-Gov. Rick Scott to pardon them. He took no action. DeSantis replaced Scott as governor Tuesday.
The case is considered a blight on Florida’s history.
The families of the men accused of the assault told DeSantis and the Cabinet — meeting as the clemency board — that there is overwhelming evidence the men were innocent and there was no rape.
The woman who was 17 when she said she was raped, sat in a wheelchair and later told DeSantis and the Cabinet the rape happened, saying she was dragged from a car, had a gun put to her head and was told not to scream or they would “blow your brains out.”
Carol Greenlee, daughter of Charles Greenlee, hugs Rep. Bobby Dubose after her father was pardoned Friday.