By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service
January 9, 2019
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CNS) -- Four men considered victims of racial injustice could soon have their names cleared. The governor and the elected Cabinet will take up the case Friday at the first meeting of the new clemency board.
In 1949, four black men, now called the Groveland Four, were falsely accused of raping a white woman in Florida.
Two were killed, one by a mob and the other by the local sheriff in cold blood. The other two men spent a collective 30 years behind bars.
In 2017, the Florida legislature issued a formal apology for the atrocity.
Senate Sponsor Gary Farmer says the apology was only intended as a first step.
“That was an interim step to get to the clemency board and get these pardons issued," said Farmer.
While the previous governor and Cabinet never took up the case, Governor Ron DeSantis says it will be a priority, putting the case on the agenda for the first meeting of the Board of Executive Clemency set for Friday. Whether or not the board will grant a pardon at the meeting is still up in the air.
“There's a lot of things that have come to the surface," said Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. "We're going to get educated.”
Senator Farmer says it’s his understanding Friday’s meeting will be limited to a discussion only.
“Hope springs eternal and I do believe that if not at Friday's meeting, at the next clemency board meeting this issue will be taken up for a vote," said Farmer.
Under the previous administration, clemency meetings were only held four times a year. If a pardon doesn’t come Friday, it could be months before action is taken, unless the new board members agree to meet on a more frequent basis.
The only Democrat on the Executive Board of Clemency, Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, has been the most vocal advocate in support of approving a full pardon.
“We have conflicted conversations coming from the governor's office. From his opinion, we're going to just have a discussion. I'm going to be pushing that we actually have an action item on Friday," said Fried.
At the time of the apology, some lawmakers suggested reparations such as free college for descendants of the victims. Whether that is something the new administration is considering is not known.