Par­don for ‘Grov­e­land Four’? Ac­cuser’s fam­ily says no way

San Francisco Chronicle - - NATION - By Stephen Hu­dak, Ryan Gille­spie and Beth Kassab Stephen Hu­dak, Ryan Gille­spie and Beth Kassab are Or­lando Sen­tinel writ­ers.

OR­LANDO, Fla. — Nearly 70 years af­ter a young white housewife said she was kid­napped and raped by four black men near the Lake County cit­rus town of Grov­e­land, Fla., is closer than ever to clear­ing the men’s names.

The case known as the “Grov­e­land Four” will be up for dis­cus­sion Fri­day at the first Clemency Board meet­ing of newly sworn-in Gov. Ron DeSan­tis and the Cab­i­net. A full par­don would bring the most sig­nif­i­cant res­o­lu­tion yet for the fam­i­lies of the men, now all de­ceased, whose lives were ru­ined by a racist crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.

Qui­etly, though, there’s a coun­ter­cam­paign at work.

Norma Pad­gett, who was just 17 when she said she was as­saulted by the men, is still alive and her fam­ily is try­ing to halt ef­forts to posthu­mously vin­di­cate Sa­muel Shep­herd, Wal­ter Irvin, Ernest Thomas and Charles Green­lee.

It’s been al­most seven decades since she has talked pub­licly about the night of July 16, 1949, though a mem­ber of the Shep­herd fam­ily claims Pad­gett apol­o­gized to Sa­muel Shep­herd’s brother dur­ing a brief en­counter 20 years ago.

Two of her sons said the fam­ily is writ­ing let­ters to DeSan­tis, in­sist­ing that Pad­gett, now 86, told the truth when she iden­ti­fied the men as those who kid­napped and raped her.

Pad­gett and her hus­band, Wil­lie, said the four men ap­proached them on a dark stretch of road near Okahumpka, where the cou­ple’s car had bro­ken down, and at first helped, but then hit Wil­lie Pad­gett and took his wal­let. The four put Norma Pad­gett in their car, drove away and raped her in the back­seat, she told po­lice.

“My mom don’t lie,” Cur­tis Up­shaw said. “She’s a good Chris­tian lady.” He didn’t of­fer any coun­ter­point to ev­i­dence that sug­gests the crime never hap­pened. The case was doc­u­mented in “The Devil in the Grove,” a 2013 Pulitzer Prizewin­ning book by Gil­bert King, and “The Grov­e­land Four: The Sad Saga of a Le­gal Lynching” by Gary Cor­sair.

Up­shaw con­ceded wrongs may have been com­mit­ted by for­mer Lake County Sher­iff Wil­lis McCall, a no­to­ri­ous seg­re­ga­tion­ist who died in 1994.

Shep­herd and Irvin, both 22, were beaten along with Green­lee, 16, in the jail af­ter their ar­rests. Thomas, 26, was shot and killed by a posse as he fled days af­ter the al­leged crime.

Three years later, McCall shot Irvin and Shep­herd as he drove them from the prison in Raiford to Lake County, be­fore they were set to stand trial for a sec­ond time af­ter their first con­vic­tions were over­turned by the U.S. Supreme Court. McCall claimed the men tried to escape, Green­lee was not in­cluded in the sec­ond trial be­cause, as the only de­fen­dant who re­ceived a life sen­tence and rather than death at the first trial, he chose not to ap­peal.

Joe Rae­dle / Getty Im­ages

Par­dons for the “Grov­e­land Four” will be up for dis­cus­sion at the first clemency meet­ing of newly sworn-in Gov. Ron DeSan­tis.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.