Groveland Four, the Black men accused in 1949 rape, could get case dismissed

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A Florida judge will decide whether to dismiss the charges against the men, known as the Groveland Four.
In the summer of 1949, a 17-year-old named Norma Padgett made an accusation that would thrust Groveland, Florida, a rural community near Orlando, into decadeslong turmoil: While driving home from a dance with her husband, the couple's car stalled. Padgett told police they were met by four young Black men who attacked her husband and then abducted and raped her at gunpoint.

The claims made by Padgett, who is white and now in her 80s, set off a manhunt that spurred an onslaught of violence against Black residents of Groveland, mobilizing the National Guard and prompting Thurgood Marshall, then a lead attorney for the NAACP, to take up the cause of the men who would come to be known as the Groveland Four.

While the accused — Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas — have since died, it took seven decades before the state of Florida formally recognized how they were failed by the criminal justice system. In 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a posthumous pardon.

But on Monday, a circuit court judge in Lake County could go further by dismissing the charges against the men, issuing a ruling that would effectively exonerate them of the crime. Such an extraordinary move was set into motion last month, when local prosecutor Bill Gladson filed paperwork to toss Thomas' and Shepherd's indictments and set aside the sentences and judgments imposed on Greenlee and Irvin.

"My family and I are deeply grateful to State Attorney Bill Gladson and his team for their dedicated efforts to review the case and right the wrongs committed against the Groveland Four more than seven decades ago," said Carol Greenlee, the daughter of Charles Greenlee, who was the youngest of the suspects, then just 16.

Carol Greenlee said in a statement that despite proclamations from the governor and the state Legislature and a monument dedicated in the Groveland Four's honor, "full justice depends on action from the judicial branch. I hope this motion will result in that full…
Erik Ortiz
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