Families of the 'Groveland Four' overcome with emotion after convictions dismissed

A Lake County judge approved the state’s motion to dismiss the convictions of the Groveland Four. They are now officially innocent men in the eyes of the law over 72 years after they were wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit. 

The tears were flowing in the courtroom as a judge approved the motion to dismiss the convictions of Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas for a crime they did not commit. 

"It’s been a long time coming," said Walter Irvin’s Nephew, Gerald Threat. 

"It’s a phenomenal final chapter, but the last page of the chapter is the one I like the most. It’s only two words, ‘The end,’" said the cousin of Shepard, Beverly Robinson. 

The moment released over 72 years of anguish on the four families forever entwined by the infamous case. They stood inside the Lake County Historical Museum which was once the county courthouse where the first case was heard back in 1949.

"I felt rejected. I felt that I had done something wrong," said Carol Greenlee as she recalled visiting her father, Charles, in prison. "I was just a little kid playing in the courtyard of a prison and all my life I felt that nobody cared and I was worth nothing."

The families never gave up hope and in July of 2021, State Attorney Bill Gladson and his team reopened the investigation and discovered new evidence that proved their innocence. 

RELATED: 'Groveland Four' memorial unveiled in Lake County

They tested the pants of Irvin that were once used to prove their guilt of raping a young white woman which ultimately showed no evidence indicative of a crime.  

"It’s absolutely clear to the state had the ability to test these pants. They did not do so in 1949 and you can see that reflected in the trial transcripts," said Gladson. "It’s the state's position that this evidence as we know it now to be no longer supports these convictions."

The descendants of the Groveland Four were beyond words for Gladson’s efforts. 

"These are people with the courage to do the right thing. To stand up for what’s right. Who would not take no for an answer," said Greenlee. 

Now the healing can begin for them and they hope for others who still face injustices.

Four families have been forever united by the gross injustices that shaped their lives. All of them never gave up hope that the innocence of their loved ones would be restored. 

"Those that have passed on left you with this legacy," said Threat. "They left you with this task to see it through and I’m thankful to have this opportunity to stand before you today and say it is over."

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