US Sen. Marco Rubio Seeks Pardon for Groveland 4
FILE - In this March 14, 2018, file photo, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks during a hearing on school safety on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is calling on Florida officials to formally pardon four young African-American men who were wrongly accused of raping a white woman nearly 70 years ago.

The Florida Republican made the request on the floor of the Senate. The move is significant because GOP Florida Gov. Rick Scott and other Republicans on the state clemency board have refused to take up the pardon request.

Scott was elected last month to the U.S. Senate and will soon join Rubio in Washington, D.C.

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Florida’s incoming agriculture commissioner has already pledged to push for a posthumous pardon of Earnest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin.

Rubio said what happened to the four men was a “horrifying injustice” and still haunts Florida to this day.

The Groveland Four (or the Groveland Boys) were four young African-American men, Earnest Thomas, Charles Greenlee (then a minor at age 16), Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin, who in 1949 were accused of raping Norma Padgett, a 17-year-old white girl and assaulting her husband in Lake County.

There were doubts about Padgett’s testimony from the onset, but in the era of Jim Crow, a jury convicted the men without evidence of a crime.

Groveland 4 Earnest Thomas, Charles Greenlee, Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin
After 70 years, Florida issues an apology to the families of the ‘Groveland Four’ who were wrongly convicted of rape.

More than 60 years, the Florida House issued them a posthumous apology.

In 2016 the City of Groveland and Lake County each apologized to survivors of the four men for the injustice against them. The four were posthumously exonerated on April 18, 2017, by a resolution of the Florida House of Representatives. The state senate quickly passed a similar resolution, and lawmakers called on Florida Governor Rick Scott to officially pardon the men.

“As a state, we’re truly sorry,” Rep. Chris Sprowls said to the men’s families on April 19, 2017 after lawmakers unanimously voted to exonerate them.

“The memories can’t be erased, the pain they’ve endured can’t be fixed but today we have an opportunity to provide closure to these families in the form of an apology,” Rep. Bobby DuBose, who sponsored the bill that called for their pardon.

US Sen. Marco Rubio Seeks Pardon for Groveland 4