LETTER FROM WASHINGTON
Justice came too late for the "Four of Groveland". On January 11, unanimously, the pardon authority in Florida finally acquitted them of the rape they were accused in 1949.
"Seventy years is a long time, and this is the period when four young men were signed by crimes they had not committed and punishments they did not deserve.", the new governor of the state, Ron DeSantis, acknowledged a Republican. The use of the past was indirect, the four men already dead, some very long.
On 16 July 1949, a white couple reported that she had been attacked by four young Afro-Americans in Groveland, not far from Orlando. The 17-year-old Norma Padgett claims to have been raped. County Sheriff Willis McCall is chasing air conditioning in Florida, which is not yet a haven for wealthy retirees.
Openly racist, who was determined to impose the most ruthless segregation everywhere, the sheriff immediately arrested two black men, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin, both 22 years old. They are beaten to get confessions. A third, Charles Greenlee, 16, later suffered the same fate.
Pack of a thousand men
A fourth friend of the last, Ernest Thomas, escapes the net. However, he is spotted ten days later and chased by a group of a thousand men. His flight ends with a dizzying death. More than four hundred bullet impacts will be found on his body. One of the projectiles is offered by Willis McCall to Norma Padgett, who comes on the spot and insures her suspected attacker.
The three survivors are quickly assessed by a jury consisting exclusively of whites. Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin are sentenced to death. Charles Greenlee escapes the death penalty because of his young age, but not in prison for life. The judge forbade the summons of the doctor who examined the victim, while the victim's report contains no evidence supporting the rape contribution. However, the dissertation circulates a lie to hide domestic violence.
A combative Afro-American lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, who works for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a stakeholder organization for African Americans, has moved heaven and earth for the Ministry of Justice to investigate the office of the sheriff and in particular his methods of enforcing confessions. He succeeds two years later in getting a lawsuit against the two sentenced to death.