DeSantis granted a posthumous pardon on Friday to the so-called Groveland Four who are now widely recognized as victims of racial injustice during the Jim Crow era, USA Today reported.
Almost two years ago, the state legislature voted to formally apologize to the relative of the four men. However, former Gov. Rick Scott decided not to pardon the men.
To his credit, the newly elected DeSantis wasted little time after taking office to examine the case.
“I don’t know that there’s any way you can look at this case and think that those ideals of justice were satisfied. Indeed, they were perverted time and time again, and I think the way this was carried out was a miscarriage of justice,” DeSantis said, according to the Associated Press.
It was one of DeSantis’ first acts since taking office Jan. 8, on the same day that the state’s felons—a disproportionate number of them African-American—had their voting rights restored through a statewide referendum that DeSantis strongly opposed.
During his gubernatorial run against Andrew Gillum, who would have made history as Florida’s first African-American governor, DeSantis kicked off his campaign by blowing a racist dog whistle. Less than 24 hours after winning the GOP nomination, DeSantis warned voters that his Black Democratic rival for the governor’s office would “monkey up” the state.
In 1949, a then 17-year-old white girl accused the four young Black men of raping her at gunpoint. One of the men, Ernest Thomas, fled from authorities but was found by a posse of white men who shot him up to 400 times.
The other three men—Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin and Samuel Shepherd—were convicted by an all-white jury. Greenlee was sentenced to life, while Irvin and Shepherd received death sentences. Lake County’s Sheriff shot Irvin and Shepherd, claiming that the handcuffed men attempted to escape during a transfer to prison from jail for their court-ordered retrial.
A long list of injustice against the men included prosecutors withholding evidence that showed they were innocent. A former FBI agent also testified that prosecutors manufactured evidence against the men.
The white woman who accused the Groveland Four of raping her appeared at the hearing and urged DeSantis not to pardon them. However, it was hard to ignore the mountain of evidence that suggests the four Black men were innocent.
Relatives of the Groveland Four told the governor that the evidence is overwhelming that they were victims of a racist criminal justice system.
“He was accused, put in jail and tortured for something he didn’t do,” Greenlee’s daughter, Carol Greenlee, told DeSantis and his Cabinet.