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Florida lawmakers are set to issue apologies to the families of four Black men who were falsely accused of rape in 1949, bringing to a close a tragic moment in history for the state. Also known as the Groveland Four, none of the accused men are still living and the state is moving to have Gov. Rick Scott grand pardons to them all.

The Miami Herald writes:

The Florida Legislature moved closer Tuesday to extending an historic apology to the families of four black men who were wrongly accused of rape in 1949 then tortured, murdered or unjustly imprisoned after one of the ugliest racist episodes in state history.

Known as the Groveland Four, none of the four men — Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee and Ernest Thomas — are still living, but members of their families were seated in the gallery of the House chamber when lawmakers voted 117-0 to unanimously join as sponsors of HCR 631. The measure exonerates the men and asks Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to expedite consideration of posthumous pardons.

The Herald adds that a similar bill will be presented to the state Senate.

The case of the Groveland Four case began when the men were accused of raping 17-year-old Norma Padgett in the Groveland, Fla. on the night of July 16, 1949. Padgett, who said she was with her husband, reported that the men approached their broken down vehicle and committed the crime.

Two of the men, Irvin and Shepherd, fought in World War II and Greenlee was a new father who was in the region looking for work. Thomas escaped from a county jail only to be rounded up and killed by a posse who hit him with multiple gunshots.

The men who survived were charged guilty by an all-white jury with Irving and Shepherd facing the death penalty while Greenlee, just 16 at the time, was given life in prison. According to reports, the remaining men were beaten into confessing to the rape of Padgett. Thurgood Marshall, then with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, took on the Groveland Four case and brought it before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case was sent to a mistrial, and the original arresting officer, Sheriff Willis McCall, shot Shepherd and Irvin dead while taking them to court and claimed the men were attempting an escape. What McCall didn’t bank on was Irvin surviving the shooting after pretending to be dead and he told investigators that McCall shot them outright. Irving was later convicted and sentenced to death once more after doctored evidence against him was produced.

A petition from Josh Venkataraman for the men garnered nearly 9,000 signatures and was delivered to Gov. Scott.

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