Florida pardons wrongly accused Groveland Four after 70 years

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One of the pardoned men, Walter Irvin, speaks with his lawyers during his retrialImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,
One of the pardoned men, Walter Irvin, speaks to his lawyers during his retrial in 1952

Four black men who were wrongly accused of raping a white teenager in Florida 70 years ago have been pardoned.

Officials voted unanimously to issue the pardon at a meeting in the state capital of Tallahassee on Friday.

None of the men are still alive, but their family members were in attendance to plead their innocence.

Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas are known as the Groveland Four and were accused of abducting and raping a girl in 1949.

Thomas was hunted down by a posse of more than 1,000 men shortly after the alleged incident and was shot hundreds of times.

The three others were beaten in custody before being convicted by all-white juries. Samuel Shepherd was later shot and killed by a sheriff while travelling to a retrial.

The case is seen as a historic racial injustice and was the subject of the book Devil in the Grove, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Three of the men were convicted by all-white juries

The alleged victim, who was 17 at the time, insisted during Friday's hearing that she had told the truth and opposed the pardons before they were granted.

"I'm begging y'all not to give them pardon," she reportedly said.

But the clemency panel, which was composed of top officials including the attorney general, praised the work of campaigners before issuing the pardons.

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who was only inaugurated on Tuesday, had promised to prioritise the case during last year's election campaign.

"These four men have had their history wrongly written for crimes they did not commit," he said in a statement.

He added: "They were perverted time and time again, and I think the way this was carried out was a miscarriage of justice."

Florida's state government issued a "heartfelt apology" to the families of the four men and recommended their posthumous pardons in 2017.