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Jimmy Patronis, Pam Bondi take action on Groveland Four pardons

Attorney General Pam Bondi also asked FDLE to start clearing their names from the court system.
Jimmy Patronis [MONICA HERNDON   |   Times]
Jimmy Patronis [MONICA HERNDON | Times]
Published Dec. 19, 2018
Updated Dec. 20, 2018

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis asked to speed up the pardon process for the Groveland Four on Wednesday, making good on a longstanding request by the Legislature to clear the men wrongly accused of raping a white woman in 1949.

Patronis, in a letter to the Office of Executive Clemency, invoked a rule requiring the office to immediately start working on a report to present to the Clemency Board, which lawmakers asked for last year.

Also on Wednesday, Attorney General Pam Bondi sent a letter to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, asking that it start working on clearing them from the court system.

"In addition to a pardon, if innocent, the Groveland Four should have their names cleared through Florida's court system," Bondi wrote to FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen. "Please conduct an immediate review of this case to begin the process of posthumously clearing the individuals' names."

The Florida Legislature last year unanimously asked Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to pardon the four black men, who were murdered, tortured or wrongly imprisoned. The case was featured in the 2012 Putlizer-winning book Devil in the Grove. 

But the Cabinet, led by Gov. Rick Scott, has not taken action and has not said why.

In recent weeks, however, with Bondi, Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam about to leave office, calls for pardoning the young men have grown.

On Monday, incoming Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the first Democrat to be elected to the Cabinet in 12 years, announced that she would move to speed up the pardon process upon taking office next month.

And on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio took to the Senate floor to urge the new Cabinet to do the same.

Fried said in a statement Wednesday the "time for justice has come."

"I appreciate Chief Financial Officer Patronis' timely action on this important issue that has been ignored for far too long," Fried said.

Patronis and Bondi won praise from attorney Chris Hand, who has worked on behalf of the Groveland 4 Clemency Coalition to see the pardons through.

"We are very grateful to Commissioner-elect Nikki Fried, Attorney General-elect Ashley Moody, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and Attorney General Pam Bondi for their leadership in working to end a nearly 70 year old injustice," he said in a statement. "It is time for the Clemency Board to grant a full pardon, so that CharIes Greenlee, WaIter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, Emest Thomas and their families have the justice they have so long deserved."

The pardons could happen as early as next month. But unless the Clemency Board reschedules it next meeting before Jan. 8, only Patronis would have a chance to vote on it.

Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis would have the ultimate say over the pardons. Any pardon would require his vote and the vote of two Cabinet members.

Times staff writer Steve Contorno contributed to this report.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the office where CFO Jimmy Patronis addressed his letter. It is the Office of Executive Clemency.