TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Seventy years after four black men were accused of raping a teenager in Groveland, the Florida Board of Executive Clemency agreed unanimously to posthumously pardon the men on Friday.
The board, which is comprised of the governor, the attorney general, the agriculture commissioner and the chief financial officer, heard from the victim herself and members of the accused men's families during Friday's meeting.
In 1949, a white 17-year-old Lake County girl said she was raped and that her husband was assaulted, resulting in the quick arrests of the four black men.
Earnest Thomas was killed by an angry mob during a manhunt. Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin were shot by the controversial Sheriff Willis McCall after he said they tried to escape. Irvin survived, and he and Charles Greenlee spent much of their lives in prison after being convicted by an all-white jury.
Greenlee and Irvin were eventually paroled after serving lengthy prison sentences.
The case received renewed focus after Sen. Marco Rubio, Gov. Ron DeSantis and newly elected Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried spoke publicly about the need to posthumously pardon the men.
"I don't know that there's any way you can look at this case and think that those deals of justice were satisfied and indeed they were perverted time and time again, and I think that the way this was carried out was a miscarriage of justice," DeSantis said Friday.
Recently, the Lake County Commission and all four Lake County constitutional officers wrote letters asking for the Groveland Four to be cleared.
Chairman Leslie Campione of the Lake County Board of County Commissioners attended the clemency board meeting Friday.
“Our focus today was on the failure of the system at the time to ensure fairness and due process as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution," Campione said in a statement. "We talked about the brutality inflicted on the accused individuals and the importance of righting this wrong as much as we can, as the current elected officials on behalf of the Lake County community at large, which is a living, caring community."
This is a developing story. Watch Eyewitness News at noon for updates from the board meeting.
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