US judge clears men wrongly accused of rape after 72 years

Four black men who were wrongly accused of raping a white teenager in the US have been cleared of the charge more than 70 years later.

They were accused of abducting and raping the girl in the central Florida town of Groveland in 1949.

Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd and Ernest Thomas - known as the Groveland Four - were pardoned by the state of Florida in January 2019.

None of the accused men lived to see themselves exonerated.

They were aged between 16 and 26 at the time.

Thomas was hunted down by a posse of more than 1,000 men shortly after the alleged incident and was shot hundreds of times.

The three others were beaten in custody, before being convicted by all-white juries. Samuel Shepherd was later shot and killed by a sheriff while travelling to a retrial.

Irvin narrowly escaped execution in 1954 and his sentence was commuted to life with parole. One year after he was paroled, in 1969, he died.

Greenlee, also sentenced to life, was paroled in 1962 and died in 2012.

A judge in Florida dismissed the indictments of Ernest Thomas and Samuel Shepherd, and set aside the convictions and sentences of Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin.

Their families were emotional upon learning of the news, saying it might spark a re-examination of other similar convictions.

"We are blessed. I hope that this is a start because lot of people didn't get this opportunity. A lot of families didn't get this opportunity. Maybe they will," said Aaron Newson, Thomas' nephew, who broke into tears as he spoke. "This country needs to come together."



Photo Getty Images  Caption: One of the pardoned men, Walter Irvin, speaks to his lawyers during his retrial in 1952