LAKE COUNTY, Fla. — Almost 70 years after four young black men from Central Florida were first accused of raping a white teenager despite evidence that supported their innocence, the "Groveland Four" are closer than ever to having their names cleared.
But it's far from a done deal.
The alleged crime happened in Lake County in 1949. Earnest Thomas was killed by an angry mob during a manhunt. Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin were shot by the controversial Sheriff Willis McCall after he said they tried to escape. Irvin and Charles Greenlee spent much of their lives in prison after being convicted by an all-white jury.
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It's a shameful chapter of Central Florida's history. Even though all four are dead now, everyone from the state legislature to Sen. Marco Rubio has asked for pardons.
But Rick Scott, the outgoing governor and soon-to-be senator, won't act.
Last year, the Florida legislature issued a resolution calling on the clemency board to deliver a pardon. But nothing happened.
In the cabinet's final meeting of the year earlier this month, neither Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam nor Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis brought up the issue.
In response, incoming Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said she'd add the topic to her next cabinet meeting, which will be her first. Bondi later issued a letter, saying, "if innocent, the Groveland Four should have their names cleared," and called for a legal review as she leaves office.
On Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio made a request from the Senate floor to pardon the Groveland Four, calling the case a "horrifying injustice."
Patronis asked Wednesday that the case be brought before the clemency board, which consists of the governor and three other elected officials. Patronis is the only one who will remain on the board past early January.
When asked why the state has not issued pardons already, Scott's office said in a statement saying the Commission on Offender Review is reviewing the case.
It's not clear how long it will take the commission to complete a clemency report.
Cox Media Group