In a late Wednesday afternoon development regarding the Groveland Four, CFO Jimm Patronis’ office issued a clemency letter informing fellow board members that he intends to bring up the four pardons at next month’s meeting of the Clemency Board.
“With this letter, I request a Rule 17 to take up the pardons of Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, known as the Groveland Four,” Patronis wrote in a short, two sentence letter to the clemency staff. “I am also instructing the Office of Executive Clemency to immediately begin conducting their clemency report for the Clemency Board’s review.”
Earlier this week, Florida Agriculture Commissioner-elect Nikki Fried called it “an undeniable injustice racially motivated and a stain on the history of our state.”
Both agree it’s time Florida right the wrong that was committed in 1949 to a group of four Lake County men, known as the Groveland Four, who were wrongly accused of raping a white woman. The men were murdered, tortured or wrongly imprisoned.”
“We must look to correct this grave injustice and denounce the abuses of the past,” Fried said in a statement released earlier this week.
Last year, the Florida Legislature asked Gov. Rick Scott and the other members of the Clemency Board to speed up the process to posthumously pardon the men. But, the board has not acted on their cases. Scott opted not to speed up the clemency process for the Groveland Four during the final year of his administration.
Fried vowed earlier this week to bring the matter up before the new governor and Clemency Board when they meet for the first time next month.
Speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate just before it acted on a measure to reform the nation’s criminal justice system, Sen. Marco Rubio called on Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis and the Cabinet to take up the Groveland Four and issue pardons to the men.
“This is what I come here to the Senate today, to urge the new Florida Cabinet to do as soon as possible after they take office next month,” Rubio said. “Because after 70 years, it is time for Florida to do the right thing for the Groveland Four.”
DeSantis has yet to publicly speak about the Groveland Four. Efforts to obtain a comment about granting pardons in the cases went unanswered by his transition office Wednesday.
The only returning member of the Cabinet, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, has not indicated his position on the matter. An email asking for comment was not immediately returned.
The only other member of the Cabinet, Attorney General-elect Ashley Moody has seemed to suggest she would support the pardons.
The Groveland Four involved four young black men who were wrongly accused of raping a white woman in Lake County in 1949. While the state of Florida issued an apology last year, the Clemency Board has not yet granted pardons as requested by the Legislature when it adopted legislation acknowledging what happened to the men, they still have not yet been given an official pardon.
“Principle should always drive policy,” said then-House Speaker Richard Corcoran who mentioned the Groveland Four during his opening remarks of the 2018 legislative session.. “Whenever the rule of law is disregarded we have to take a stand.”
Rubio says the pardons, which must be approved by the governor and two members of the Clemency Board, might come too late for the four young men who were killed. But he says it has to be done.
“What we can do now, as a state in Florida, is seek the forgiveness of their families and of them for the grave injustice that was committed against them,” Rubio said.