The Groveland Four case stands as a tragic episode in Florida's history, marked by the wrongful conviction of Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, four young African American men.
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 the four men 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 Bill Gladson as the prosecuting authority for Lake County.
State Attorney Gladson began a comprehensive review of the case, reevaluating evidence, testimonies, and legal proceedings to uncover the truth. His efforts revealed an incredible injustice had been done.
October 25, 2021, Gladson 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.”
“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.”
Less than a month later, on November 22, Lake County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Heidi Davis granted Gladson’s motion.
State Attorney Gladson's commitment and efforts cleared the Groveland Four of any wrongdoing 72 years after the case began. He was able to leverage advancements in forensic science and criminal investigations to ensure transparency and accountability. Gladson aimed to provide a clear and unbiased account of the case's events and foster dialogue with community members, civil rights organizations, and historians.
The Groveland Four case serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of vigilance in safeguarding justice. At the State Attorney's Office, we remain steadfast in our commitment to pursuing truth, accountability, and justice for the Groveland Four, forging a path toward healing and a more equitable future.