'It's been a long time coming': Groveland Four win full exoneration on Monday

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The Groveland Four on Monday were exonerated in Tavares, Florida, 72 years after the four Black men were falsely accused of raping a white woman.
TAVARES — It's over.

A judge Monday granted State Attorney Bill Gladston's his motion to exonerate The Groveland Four in what he described as 72 years of "a complete breakdown of the criminal justice system."

Circuit Judge Heidi Davis, citing the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, said she was "thankful for the privilege of being able to grant the state's motion."

Judge Davis' ruling individually dismisses indictments, sets aside judgments and sentences and corrects the record with newly discovered evidence.

The courtroom, packed with relatives of Ernest Thomas, Samuel Shepherd, Walter Irvin and Charles Greenlee, erupted in applause. Some dabbed their eyes, hugged each other, and raised their hands praising God. But Carol Greenlee, Greenlee's daughter, wept uncontrollably.

"It's been a long time coming," she said.

The backstory: Lake County prosecutor seeks to dismiss charges and sentences of the Groveland Four

Welcome back, Mabel: Journalist Norris Reese bust installation unveiled in Mount Dora

Read about the pardon: Pardon of the Groveland Four fueled by Lake County people

Photos: Groveland Four Memorial dedication

"This is the day the Lord has made," she said later at a press conference across the street at the historic courthouse where the injustice began in 1949.

Sheriff Willis McCall arrested the four Black men when a white woman claimed she was kidnapped and raped when her husband's car broke down on a country road. She chose not to show up on Monday, but she has stuck to her story over the years.

Thomas was indicted but killed by a posse before he could be arrested. Greenlee, who was just 16, was convicted but a jury recommended mercy instead of a death sentence, and Irvin and Shepherd received a death sentence.

The case against the men was so suspect that the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a new trial. Greenlee had not appealed his sentence because he would have risked getting a death sentence. McCall, bringing the two men back to Lake County for a…
Frank Stanfield
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