Pardoning the Groveland Four will be a "priority" when Florida Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis takes office next month, he said Thursday, potentially bringing to an end a decades-long effort to clear the names of the four men wrongly accused of raping a white woman in 1949.
DeSantis, bucking current Gov. Rick Scott, who has refused to speed up the pardon process for the four, said "it is never too late to do the right thing."
"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," DeSantis said in a statement. "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."
DeSantis said he applauded the Legislature last year unanimously asking Scott and the Cabinet to pardon the men and appreciated Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis requesting to speed up the pardon process this week.
The case of the Groveland Four, four black men who were murdered, tortured or wrongly imprisoned by a Lake County sheriff for a crime they didn't commit, is one of the worst acts of racism in the state's history.
But Scott, who leaves for the U.S. Senate next month, made no effort to make good on the Legislature's request. And calls for the pardons have grown in recent weeks, with Scott and two other members of the Cabinet about to leave office without making good on the Legislature's request.
DeSantis said he looked forward to "making the cases of the Groveland Four a priority for the first meeting of the Florida Cabinet in January."
Any pardon would require the vote of the governor and two members of the Cabinet. In addition to Patronis, incoming Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has supports a pardon, and Attorney General-elect Ashley Moody has expressed interest.
DeSantis said he urged "all Floridians to become acquainted with the facts of this case."
"And not only Groveland, but we must all learn from the past in its fullness," he said. "We should be shocked by the acts of evil that were done, yet inspired by the men and women of good will who have refused to let sleeping dogs lie."