For decades, five Black men — Ernest Thomas, Robert Noble, Timothy Smith, Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin — were wrongly imprisoned and saw their lives changed forever. The men were convicted on false evidence in 1949 in the brutal rape of a White woman, and then sentenced to death. It was allegedly the first time in Florida’s history that any Black man had been sentenced to death in the state. The Black men languished in jail for years, and not until there was new DNA evidence that exonerated them of all charges.
But it’s been so long — seven decades — that many people thought they had seen the last of the men. A Miami-Dade judge ruled on Thursday that the men should be released from prison. A release date for the men hasn’t been announced, and they will likely never be free. However, the judge ordered that their records be expunged from Florida’s court records, as well as barring them from ever having to face charges in the case. They will also be eligible for compensatory damages for their life sentences.
“Just for the fleeting privilege of being with family and friends, it would be the saddest day in their lives if all this they have been through, all this punishment, and all of this scrutiny, were to be wiped out — that would be the worst,” the lead defense attorney for the men, Ethan Sonnenschein, told NBC 6.
A younger version of the group spent the last couple of decades hoping that justice would be served. “Our last hope was to release them after 50 years and get a cash check and finally have a chance to live a peaceful life again,” Charles Greenlee, 81, said in the Times.
Read the full story at the Times.
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