A judge could right a 72-year-old wrong today in the notorious rape case of the Groveland Four

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A 72-year-old racial injustice could be corrected this morning when a judge in Lake County hears a prosecutor's extraordinary petition to set aside the 1949 ...
rape indictment and convictions which destroyed the lives of four young Black men who came to be known to the nation as the "Groveland Four."

If granted, the motion by State Attorney William Gladson could finally clear the names of Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas, fulfilling life-long wishes of their families, who have fought decades for the innocence of the four to be officially recognized — even if posthumously.

All four died decades ago, including Thomas shot to death July 26, 1949, by an armed posse before he was arrested.

The Groveland Four's alleged crimes of kidnapping and raping a 17-year-old white girl were pardoned in 2019 by the Florida Clemency Board, led by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who stopped short of exonerating the men as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement looked into the notorious case.

It's unclear if the alleged victim, Norma Lee Padgett, now 89, will attend today's hearing.

Prosecutors said Padgett and her sons were given notice and extended an offer to participate in the proceedings by video conferencing.

Seated in a wheelchair, she told the clemency board in 2019, "I'm begging you all not to give them pardon because they done it."

The board nonetheless granted pardons based on apparent misdeeds by law enforcement…
Stephen Hudak, Orlando Sentinel
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