groveland.jpg

Walter Irvin (third from left), Charles Greenlee and Samuel Shepherd stand in a jail after being accused of raping a 17-year-old white girl in Lake County, Florida, in 1949. Since then, Greenlee’s daughter, Carol Greenlee, has petitioned to exonerate her father and the other African-American men who were charged alongside him, known as the Groveland Four.

Josh Venkataraman has more than 8,000 signatures, but he’s missing one.

Since last year, the UF telecommunication senior has fought to exonerate four Florida men who, in 1949, were convicted in connection with the rape of a white woman in Groveland, Florida, a city situated in Lake County.

After the FBI found no evidence of a rape, the Groveland Four case became a story about four young men who were wrongly imprisoned by an all-white jury.

Since he began the petition last Spring Break, Venkataraman, 22, has amassed signatures from places such as Seattle, Washington; Austin, Texas; and Australia.

But he’s missing one from Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who could sign off on the boys’ exoneration.

“I really just think it’s justice that’s long overdue,” Venkataraman said.

Last year, a bill calling for their acquittal died in the Florida Legislature. This year, Venkataraman said a new bill will likely suffer a similar fate.

The brother of Charles Greenlee, one of the four boys, joined Venkataraman at Groveland City Hall on Tuesday. Attendees stood and clapped as the mayor of Groveland issued a proclamation to Gov. Scott, asking him to exonerate the boys.

Venkataraman said the mayor received death threats before Tuesday’s announcement.

For Wade Greenlee, 73, clearing his brother’s name would mean an end to a multi-decade struggle. The proclamation would be the closest he’s ever been to seeing his brother exonerated.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Greenlee said. “But I never thought we would get to this point.”

Almost 70 years ago, Charles traveled from Alachua to Groveland to find a job because his girlfriend was pregnant.

Greenlee was less than 10 years old when his brother Charles, then 16, woke up to the allegations of rape.

Charles spent about 13 years in prison before he was paroled. In 2012, as the last living member of the Groveland Four, he died.

“I’m just sorry that he’s not here to realize this,” Greenlee said.

Contact Martin Vassolo at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @martindvassolo