Florida pardons four black men of 1949 rape of white girl

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Not even a "heartfelt" 2017 apology from the Florida legislature and an impassioned plea for justice in Congress previous year by Senator Marco Rubio was enough to sway the outgoing governor, Rick Scott, to initiate the pardon process.

And on Friday, the state's clemency board voted to posthumously pardon all four men - Ernest Thomas, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin.

In 2016, the city of Groveland and Lake County apologised to the men and their families.

"I believe in the principles of the Constitution". "And I don't know that there is any way you could look at this case and think that those ideals of justice were satisfied". One of the four was killed before he could be charged and the other three were convicted on dubious evidence.

After hearing testimony from family members of the men and Padgett herself, now in her late 80s, newly-inaugurated Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said this case was a "miscarriage of justice" and that the "only appropriate thing to do is to grant pardons". Greenlee, Irvin, and Shepherd were beaten into confessing after their arrest.

Padgett, now 86, says she was dragged from her vehicle and told not to speak while the men pointed a gun to her head, threatening to "blow [her] brains out".

"I'm the victim of that night". It's always enough when you're telling the truth, " Robinson replied.

The ordeal began in Lake County in 1949, when the then-17-year-old said she had been raped.

"The memories can't be erased, the pain they've endured can't be fixed but today we have an opportunity to provide closure to these families in the form of an apology", Rep. Bobby DuBose, who sponsored the bill that called for their pardon. "If you do, you're going to be just like them". "I know she called me a liar, but I'm not no liar".

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All of the evidence was compiled in the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winning book, Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King.

"He was clearly convicted by a person who just said he did it".

"He wasn't there for birthdays". He wasn't there to help with homework. "You put someone into a situation where you not only affect him, but the whole family", he added.

Until now, Florida's executive clemency board, the state's only body with pardon-granting authority, had refused to address the Groveland case, despite a decades-long fight by the men's relatives and supporters to clear their names. Beverly Robinson, a niece of one of the Groveland Four, was speaking to the governor and the Cabinet when she turned to the woman and her sons.

Padgett's 1949 accusation occurred in Lake County, Florida.

Thomas, also blamed for the alleged crime, escaped into the surrounding swamps where he was "hunted for more than 30 hours.by an armed, deputized posse of approximately 1,000 men with bloodhounds", according to a detailed apology offered to the men by state legislators in 2017.

Separately, a white mob raided a black neighborhood, burning houses and firing guns into homes in days-long unrest. DeSantis replaced Scott as governor on Tuesday.

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

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