Florida officials may urge exoneration for ‘Groveland Four’

FILE - In this June 30, 2014 file photo, the Supreme Court building in Washington. The Supreme Court has upheld a 4-year-old federal program that pays large electric customers to save energy during times of peak demand. The justices ruled 6-2 on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had the authority to issue directives aimed at conserving energy and preventing blackouts. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The arrests and killings of four African-American men accused of raping a white woman in Groveland, Florida, in 1949 is considered one of the great miscarriages of justice in the years prior to the civil rights movement.

On Tuesday, Groveland city officials will consider a proclamation encouraging the exoneration of the four men known as the “Groveland Four.” None of the men is alive, but their relatives still live in the central Florida community that six decades ago was a major producer of citrus but today is an Orlando suburb.

The proclamation requests that Gov. Rick Scott and his Cabinet pardon Samuel Shepherd, Walter Irvin, Charles Greenlee and Ernest Thomas. A resolution exonerating the four men has been introduced in the Florida Senate this legislative session.

Thomas was killed by a sheriff’s posse. During their trials, Greenlee was given a life sentence; Shepherd and Irving were sentenced to death.

A new trial was ordered for Shepherd and Irvin after their convictions were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

They were later shot — Shepherd fatally — by Lake County’s sheriff, who said they tried to overpower him during a ride from the state prison back to Lake County.

Irvin was tried again, this time represented by Thurgood Marshall, who later would become the nation’s first African American Supreme Court justice. Irvin was convicted again, but his death sentence was commuted to life in prison by then-Gov. LeRoy Collins.

Greenlee and Irvin were released from prison in the 1960s. Irvin died in 1970 during a visit to Lake County. Greenlee died in 2012.

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