FROM THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA
A Senate Democrat filed a proposal Tuesday calling for the state to apologize and posthumously exonerate four Black men − known as the “Groveland Four” − accused of raping a White woman in 1949 in Lake County.
Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, filed a proposed resolution (SCR 136) for consideration during the 2016 legislative session, which starts in January. The proposal would seek to clear the names of Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas and points to “egregious wrongs” perpetrated against the men by the criminal justice system. The resolution said the men had alibis but were arrested in the alleged attack.
Greenlee, Irvin and Shepherd were severely beaten in the basement of the county jail. Thomas fled and was shot several days later by a posse in Madison County. Greenlee was sentenced to life in prison, while Irvin and Shepherd were sentenced to death, but the U.S. Supreme Court in 1951 overturned the Irvin and Shepherd convictions and ordered a retrial.
While the two men were being transported from Florida State Prison to Lake County for a pretrial hearing in November 1951, sheriff’s officials fatally shot Shepherd and wounded Irvin in what was purported to be an escape attempt.
Irvin and Greenlee served prison time but were later paroled. Irvin died in 1970, while Greenlee died in 2012, according to Thompson’s resolution.
Along with seeking exoneration of the men, the resolution also seeks pardons for Irvin and Greenlee.