Prosecutor wants to fully unlock Groveland Four

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Florida’s 5th District Attorney William Gladson attempted posthumously on Monday to clear the Groveland Four of any official allegation or conviction that they raped a woman in 1949, based on a new state investigation.

Gladson filed a lawsuit on Monday to dismiss charges against 1949. were collected Ernst Thomas and Samuel Shepherd, Overturn charges, judgments and judgments Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin, and “Correct the record with newly discovered evidence in the case known as ‘The Groveland Four’.”

The four – all now deceased – were young blacks or teenagers falsely accused of raping a Lake County white woman in custody in 1949, killed in custody, and Greenlee and Irvin were convicted and jailed.

“Even a casual review of the files shows these four men were deprived of the basic rights of due process that all Americans have,” Gladson wrote in his motion filed Monday in Lake County 5th Judicial Circuit Court.

“I haven’t seen a major breakdown in the criminal justice system, and I never expect to ever do it again,” said Gladson on his behalf.

Carol Greenlee, Daughter of Charles Greenlee, responded with gratitude and hope.

“My family and I are deeply grateful to Attorney Bill Gladson and his team for their dedicated efforts to review the case and correct the injustice committed against the Groveland Four more than seven decades ago,” she said in a statement released Monday. “While we are grateful that the Florida legislature apologized and the executive board granted pardons, full justice depends on action by the judiciary. I hope this motion leads to this full justice for my father Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas. “

The case was a cause célèbre of the civil rights movement of the 1940s and 50s, and Greenlee and Irvin were represented by future Supreme Court justices Thurgood Marshall. But there was no justice then.

Then with the publication of a a couple of investigative books, which relied on FBI files and other sources not used in the trials, and efforts by Rep. Geraldine Thompson and others the case has breathed new life into in recent years. In 2017 the Florida lawmakers unanimously passed a resolution declaring the case a miscarriage of justice, apologizing and calling for a pardon. These pardons came from the pardon board in early 2019 one of the first actions in office of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

But always family members and advocates like Thompson wanted full discharge – for Florida to explain that the four didn’t.

In order to support possible exonerations, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement opened an investigation in December 2018, which was ordered by the then attorney general Pam Bondi just before she left office.

The FDLE sent Gladson its investigation report in July recommending that Gladson move the charges and convictions dismissed.

“Given these facts, no fair prosecutor today would even consider bringing these charges, and no sensible jury would convict,” Gladson wrote. “The evidence strongly suggests that the sheriff, judge, and prosecutor nearly resulted in guilty sentences in this case. These officials, disguised as peacekeepers and posing as ministers of justice, disregarded their oaths and started a series of events that forever destroyed these men, their families and a community. “


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