Pardons may finally come for the Groveland Four: Gov. DeSantis and Cabinet members to discuss case Friday

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Cabinet members are scheduled to discuss the Groveland Four case on Friday, potentially paving the way for full pardons for the men whose 1949 case became a “shameful chapter” in Florida’s history.

A meeting agenda item shows that DeSantis and members of the state Cabinet — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis –will be acting as the state’s Executive Clemency Board on Friday.

All four top statewide officers were sworn in on Tuesday.

The group may or may not take action on pardons on Friday. But with the new governor and new Cabinet members in place, pardons could come soon for the four black men, now deceased, who were wrongly accused of raping a 17-year-old white woman in July 1949 in Lake County.

In the spring of 2017, lawmakers approved a resolution, saying the Legislature acknowledged “that Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, the Groveland Four, were the victims of gross injustices and that their abhorrent treatment by the criminal justice system is a shameful chapter in this state’s history,” according to a synopsis of the case by the state House.

“The Legislature also extends a heartfelt apology to the families of Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas for the enduring sorrow caused by the criminal justice system’s failure to protect their basic constitutional rights,” the synopsis said. “Lastly, the Legislature urges the Governor and Cabinet to expedite review of the cases of Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas as part of their constitutional authority to grant clemency, including granting full pardons.”

At the time, Gov. Rick Scott and members of the Cabinet did not act on any pardons.

But Gov. DeSantis, in a press release in late December, stated that: “Seventy years is a long time to wait, but it is never too late to do the right thing.”

The release states: “Seventy years is a long time. And that’s the amount of time four young men have been wrongly written into Florida history for crimes they did not commit and punishments they did not deserve. Justice was miscarried for the Groveland Four beginning with events set in motion in 1949. Though these men now lie in graves, their stories linger in search of justice.”

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only Democrat of the four members on the clemency panel, has urged the group to act on full pardons.

According to the News Service of Florida, Fried said, “We have conflicting conversations from the governor’s office. From (DeSantis’s) opinion, we’re just going to have a discussion. I’m going to be pushing that we actually have an action item on Friday. I’m going to be pushing for the pardon to come through and to actually go forth with what we’ve been promising the family for a long time.”

 

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

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