Hours after Gov. Rick Scott declined to talk specifically about the posthumous pardons requested for the Groveland Four — 1940s victims of racial injustice that led to two being killed and two going to prison — the governor’s office said Wednesday he is aware of the case and reviewing options.
“Governor Scott is aware of the Groveland Four case and is strongly against any form of racial injustice or discrimination,” McKinley Lewis, Scott’s deputy communications director said in a written statement responding to a request to clarify the governor’s statements earlier Wednesday.
“Currently, the families of Walter Irvin and Charles Greenlee have applications pending with the Commission on Offender Review which conducts clemency investigations per standard procedure and the Florida Constitution,” Lewis continued. “After the commission concludes clemency investigation, their findings are presented to the four-member Board of Executive Clemency. We will continue to review all of our options.“
Lewis did not indicate whether the governor had sought to have the commission expedite those requests, or another request from Josh Venkataraman, who is seeking pardons for both Irvin and Greenlee. There are more than 22,000 applications pending at the Commission on Offender Review, which takes them up in the order they were filed, unless a member of the Florida Cabinet requests a case be expedited.
It typically takes many years to reach the Board of Executive Clemency.
Lewis also did not specify what options were being reviewed.
In April, the Florida Legislature unanimously approved CS/HCR 631, which requested one option: that clemency requests for Irvin and Greenlee be expedited and the pair be granted full pardons.
The Groveland Four were young, black men who were accused of raping a white woman in Lake County in 1949. Two of them, Sam Shepherd and Ernest Thomas, were killed in custody. Irvin and Greenlee were convicted and sent to prison in a trial that NAACP attorney and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall later exposed as a notorious example of Jim Crow-era injustice. Irvin and Greenlee have since died.
In 2013 Gilbert King‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Devil in the Grove brought worldwide attention to the case. Last Spring the Florida Legislature approved CS/HCR 631 acknowledging injustice, apologizing to the families, and requesting the pardons.
Wednesday morning, when asked about the pardons in Jacksonville, the governor said nothing to indicate he knew about the case. He responded that he does what he can for citizens around the state, and that pardons go through a process.