Clemency Board Pardons Groveland Four

Jan 11, 2019

The Florida Clemency Board has unanimously pardoned four African American men known as the Groveland Four.

The men were accused of raping a white woman in 1949, but evidence suggests they were innocent.

It’s been 70 years, but the Groveland Four finally found justice after they were falsely accused of raping Norma Padgett.

“I really believe in the principles and the Constitution," said Gov. Ron DeSantis. "And I don’t know that there’s any way that you can look at this case and think that those ideals of justice were satisfied. Indeed, they were perverted time and time again.”

Walter Irvin, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd and Earnest Thomas were accused by 17-year-old Padgett.

Irvin, Greenlee and Shepherd were arrested and beaten, while Thomas fled. A gang of nearly 1,000 men found and shot Thomas 400 times while he slept under a tree.

During the first Clemency Board Meeting of the DeSantis era, the cabinet heard emotional testimony. Family members of the four accused joined supporters in pleading for a pardon.

“He was accused, put in jail, tortured for something that he did not do," said Carol Greenlee, Charles Greenlee's daughter. "I ask for you today to please pardon my father and the Groveland Four.”

Beverly Robinson, Shepherd's cousin, said the rape never happened, and accused the Padgett family of lying.

“I’m begging y’all not to give them pardons because they done it," said Padgett, shielded from cameras by family members. "Your minds might be made up, I don’t know.

"And if you do, y’all gone be just as bad – y’all gone be just like them.”

Pressure to pardon the Groveland four has been mounting for decades.

An FBI report found evidence exonerating the men, uncovered by author Gilbert King in his book Devil in the Grove.

The Florida Legislature passed a resolution apologizing to the Groveland Four in 2017, and Sen. Marco Rubio pled for justice last year.

None of that, however, could convince then-Gov. Rick Scott to take up the case.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried praised the decision, but she wants to go further. She is calling for a proclaimation exhonerating the Groveland Four.

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