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Florida court formally clears 'Groveland Four' of 1949 rape accusations

Nov. 22 (UPI) -- A Florida district court on Monday formally cleared four Black men -- known as the "Groveland Four" -- who were accused of raping a White woman and attacking her husband more than seven decades ago.

The men -- Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas -- were accused of raping 17-year-old Norma Padgett, which set off a string of racial violence against Black men in Groveland, in central Florida in 1949.

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An angry mob killed Thomas and the other three were convicted by all-White juries in a case that drew the attention of future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall as an attorney. They have since also died.

Their case received renewed attention with author Gilbert King highlighting never-released documents in his re-examination of the case for his book "Devil in the Grove," which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013.

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Bill Gladson, the state attorney for Lake County, officially reopened the case and determined that the purported rape did not occur.

"Officials, disguised as keepers of the peace and masquerading as ministers of justice, disregarded their oaths, and set in motion a series of events that forever destroyed these men, their families, and a community," Gladson wrote in his motion, according to NBC News.

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"I have not witnessed a more complete breakdown of the criminal justice system."

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Padgett, who is now in her 80s, has not spoken publicly about the case in years. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an official pardon for the men in 2019, but Monday cleared their records by formally dismissing the charges.

"I will not hate, but I will love and embrace all of those who did not know at the time that my father was a caring and loving compassionate person, that did not rape anybody," Carol Greenlee, daughter of Charles Greenlee, said according to WESH-TV.

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