State Attorney Files Motion to Dismiss Indictments, Set Aside Judgments and Sentences and Correct Record in “The Groveland Four” Case


Date: Oct 25, 2021   TAVARES, FL – Today, State Attorney William “Bill” Gladson of the Florida Fifth Judicial Circuit, filed a Motion to Dismiss the Indictments of Ernest Thomas and Samuel Shepherd, Set Aside the Judgments and Sentences of Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin, and Correct the Record with Newly Discovered Evidence in the case known as “The Groveland Four.”  Four Black men were falsely accused of raping a white woman in 1949.  Three of the men– Greenlee, Irvin and Shepherd– were tried by all-white juries and found guilty.  Shepherd’s conviction was later thrown out and he was granted a new trial.  Thomas never made it to trial. Shepherd never made it back to court.  They were both later killed by white mobs. The motion seeks to set aside the guilty verdicts against Greenlee and Irvin and to dismiss the indictments against Shepherd and Thomas.  In December of 2018, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi directed the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to conduct a review of the 1949 criminal case in which Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas were charged with the rape of a seventeen-year-old woman in Lake County, Florida. The men were subsequently pardoned by Governor Ron DeSantis on January 11, 2019.  In July of 2021, FDLE referred their investigation to State Attorney Gladson as the prosecuting authority for Lake County. “Even a casual review of the record reveals that these four men were deprived of the fundamental due process rights that are afforded to all Americans,” Gladson wrote in his motion. “The evidence strongly suggests that a sheriff, a judge, and prosecutor all but guaranteed guilty verdicts in this case. These 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 . . . I have not witnessed a more complete breakdown of the criminal justice system.” The motion details the procedural history of the case, the investigation by FDLE, the State Attorney’s review of the matter and the newly discovered evidence that forms the basis for the request.“My family and I are deeply grateful to State Attorney Bill Gladson and his team for their dedicated efforts to review the case and right the wrongs committed against the Groveland Four more than seven decades ago,” said Carol Greenlee, the daughter of Groveland Four member Charles Greenlee. “While we are thankful the Florida Legislature apologized and the Board of Executive Clemency granted pardons, full justice depends on action from the judicial branch. I hope this motion will result in that full justice for my father Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas.”If the Court grants State Attorney Gadson’s motion, it would restore the legal presumption of innocence for Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas. After more than 72 years, the Groveland Four would be innocent in the eyes of the law.