Usa, four African Americans cleared of rape charges in Florida after more than 70 years

Four African American men, known as the Groveland Four, all deceased today, wrongly accused of raping a teenager, were exonerated by a judge in Florida after more than 70 years. The case is considered to be among the biggest judicial errors in US history in the era of the so-called ‘Jim Crow laws’, regulations that helped keep racial segregation alive in the States. The news is reported by several American media, including the Cnn.

The accusation and life imprisonment sentences

In 1949, Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas were accused of raping Norma Padgett in Groveland, Florida, about 30 miles west of Orlando. From the beginning there were doubts about the testimony provided by the alleged victim. However, the four were arrested. Three of them were tortured in an attempt by the police to obtain a confession. Thomas, who managed to escape custody, was killed after a manhunt. Greenlee was sentenced to life in prison. Shepherd and Irvin received the death penalty. As they were being transported from the county jail for a retrial, the sheriff shot them both, claiming self-defense. Shepherd died instantly, Irvin saved himself by pretending to be dead. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. Irvin died a year after being released, in 1969. Greenlee, released in 1962, passed away in 2012.

From apologies to cancellation of convictions

Previously, the story had been reinterpreted in a different key after many years. In 2017, the Florida lawmaker formally apologized to the 4 men’s families. In 2018, the then Attorney General, Pam Bondi, had instructed the State Department of Law Enforcement to review the case. In 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis and the three-member cabinet of the state granted a posthumous pardon. Now, at the request of a local prosecutor, Administrative Judge Heidi Davis has canceled the charges against Thomas and Shepherd, who died before the sentencing, and overturned the convictions of Greenlee and Irvin.