Florida par­dons 4 in 1949 rape case

The Progress-Index Weekend - - OBITUARIES - By Bren­dan Farrington

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — After a dra­matic, hour-long meet­ing that re­called events from nearly seven decades ago, Florida Gov. Ron DeSan­tis and the state’s three-mem­ber Cabi­net granted post­hu­mous par­dons Fri­day to four African-Amer­i­can men ac­cused of rap­ing a white woman in a 1949 case now seen as a racial in­jus­tice.

The case of the men known as the Grov­e­land Four has been doc­u­mented in a book and is con­sid­ered a blight on Florida’s his­tory. One of the four was killed be­fore he could be charged and the other three were con­victed on du­bi­ous ev­i­dence.

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 Gov. DeSan­tis and the Cabi­net the rape did in­deed hap­pen, 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.”

At one point, the two sides briefly clashed. Bev­erly Robin­son, a niece of one of the Grov­e­land Four, was speak­ing to the gov­er­nor and the Cabi­net when she turned to the woman and her sons.

“It never hap­pened. You all are liars,” Robin­son said.

“That’s enough out of you,” the woman said.

“I know it’s enough out of me. It’s al­ways enough when you’re telling the truth,” Robin­son replied.

The unan­i­mous vote to par­don came al­most two years after the state House and Sen­ate voted to for­mally apol­o­gize to rel­a­tives of the Grov­e­land Four and to ask then-Gov. Rick Scott to par­don the men. Scott, now a U.S. se­na­tor, never took ac­tion. DeSan­tis re­placed Scott on Tuesday and made the par­dons a pri­or­ity.

“I don’t know that there’s any way you can look at this case and think that those ideals of jus­tice were sat­is­fied. In­deed, they were per­verted time and time again, and I think the way this was car­ried out was a mis­car­riage of jus­tice,” DeSan­tis said.

The or­deal be­gan in Lake County in 1949, when the then-17year-old said she had been raped. Three of the men were ar­rested and se­verely beaten; a fourth, Ernest Thomas, fled.

A posse of about 1,000 men was formed to hunt down Thomas. He was shot 400 times when they found him sleep­ing un­der a tree. White res­i­dents also formed a mob and went to a black neigh­bor­hood, burn­ing houses and fir­ing guns into homes in a dis­tur­bance that took days to quell.

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