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Groveland Four Accuser Spoke For First Time In Decades During Clemency Board Hearing

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From left, Walter Irvin, Charles Greenlee, and Samuel Shepherd were wrongfully prosecuted for rape in 1949. A fourth man, Ernest Thomas, was killed during a manhunt before he could be arrested. Photo: Gary Corsair

The board that pardoned the Groveland Four today heard testimonies from the accuser herself and from families of the four black men falsely accused of raping a white woman in 1949.

Governor Ron DeSantis moved to pardon the men after hearing from county officials and family members. Governor Ron DeSantis quickly moved the discussion to formal action. “I don’t know that there’s any way you can look at this case and think that those ideals of justice were satisfied. Indeed they were perverted time and time again.”

One of the men was killed by a mob, and two were shot- one fatally-  by Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall while he was transporting them back to the courthouse for retrial. The U.S. Supreme Court threw out their convictions. The cousin of Samuel Shephard, Beverly Robinson, called for further action.

“Pardon is not the right word,” she said. “The right word is exonerate because it never happened.”

Robinson called accuser Norma Padgett Upshaw a liar.

Upshaw expressed opposition. “I don’t want them pardoned, no I do not. And you wouldn’t either. And I know she called me a liar but I ain’t not liar. If I had to go to court today I could tell the same stories I did then.”

There is evidence two of the men were in Orlando and one was 19 miles away from the scene at the time of the alleged incident.

Clemency board member Nikki Fried asked the governor to consider a proclamation of exoneration to completely absolve the names of the Groveland Four.


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About Emily Lang

Emily Lang