Florida Senate - 2017                                    SCR 920
       By Senator Farmer
       34-00535A-17                                           2017920__
    1                    Senate Concurrent Resolution                   
    2         A concurrent resolution acknowledging the grave
    3         injustice perpetrated against Charles Greenlee, Walter
    4         Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, who came to
    5         be known as the “Groveland Four,” exonerating the four
    6         men, offering a formal and heartfelt apology to these
    7         victims of racial hatred and to their families; and
    8         urging the Governor and Cabinet to pardon Walter Irvin
    9         and Charles Greenlee.
   11         WHEREAS, on July 16, 1949, a 17-year-old white woman and
   12  her estranged husband reported to police that they had been
   13  attacked and that she had been raped by four black men after the
   14  car in which she and her estranged husband were riding broke
   15  down on a rural road outside Groveland, in Lake County, and
   16         WHEREAS, despite the lack of physical evidence in the case
   17  and the established alibis of the accused, Charles Greenlee,
   18  Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, the four men
   19  were presumed guilty, and
   20         WHEREAS, Walter Irvin and Samuel Shepherd, both World War
   21  II veterans, acknowledged that they had stopped by the broken
   22  down vehicle to see if they could assist the couple, but denied
   23  any involvement in the alleged rape, and
   24         WHEREAS, Charles Greenlee, who was only 16 years old at the
   25  time, and Ernest Thomas denied ever meeting the alleged victim
   26  and her estranged husband, and
   27         WHEREAS, after their arrest that evening, Charles Greenlee,
   28  Walter Irvin, and Samuel Shepherd were severely beaten in the
   29  basement of the county jail, and Mr. Greenlee and Mr. Shepherd
   30  were coerced into confessing to the crime, while Mr. Irvin
   31  refused to admit his guilt, and
   32         WHEREAS, Ernest Thomas, who fled the county, was shot to
   33  death several days later in Madison County by members of a
   34  deputized posse of armed men, and
   35         WHEREAS, the three surviving men, Charles Greenlee, Walter
   36  Irvin, and Samuel Shepherd, were tried and convicted in the
   37  case, with Mr. Greenlee sentenced to life imprisonment due to
   38  his age and Mr. Irvin and Mr. Shepherd sentenced to death, and
   39         WHEREAS, Thurgood Marshall, then executive director of the
   40  NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, appealed the
   41  convictions of Walter Irvin and Samuel Shepherd to the United
   42  States Supreme Court, which unanimously overturned the judgments
   43  on April 9, 1951, and ordered a retrial, and
   44         WHEREAS, 7 months later, in November 1951, while
   45  transporting Walter Irvin and Samuel Shepherd from Florida State
   46  Prison in Raiford to Tavares State Prison for a pretrial
   47  hearing, Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall and Deputy Sheriff
   48  James L. Yates shot both men on a dirt road leading into
   49  Umatilla, claiming that they had shot the handcuffed men in
   50  self-defense when the two tried to escape, and
   51         WHEREAS, Samuel Shepherd died at the scene as a result of
   52  his wounds, but Walter Irvin, who pretended to be dead, survived
   53  and accused the sheriff and his deputy of attempted murder, but
   54  no charges were ever brought against the officers, and
   55         WHEREAS, Walter Irvin was retried and convicted a second
   56  time for the crime and was sentenced to death, despite the fact
   57  that the state attorney allegedly withheld exculpatory medical
   58  evidence from the defense, and despite testimony from a former
   59  Federal Bureau of Investigation criminologist stating that he
   60  believed forensic evidence had been manufactured by deputies,
   61  and
   62         WHEREAS, Mr. Irvin’s sentence was commuted to life in
   63  prison in 1955 by then Governor LeRoy Collins, who was not
   64  convinced of Mr. Irvin’s guilt, and
   65         WHEREAS, in 1970, while visiting Lake County, Walter Irvin,
   66  who had been paroled 2 years earlier by then Governor Claude
   67  Kirk, was found dead in his car, and, while Mr. Irvin’s death
   68  was officially attributed to natural causes, Thurgood Marshall
   69  reportedly had doubts about the circumstances surrounding his
   70  death, and
   71         WHEREAS, Charles Greenlee, who was paroled in 1962 after
   72  serving 12 years in prison, died in April 2012 at the age of 78,
   73  and
   74         WHEREAS, the grave injustice perpetrated against the
   75  Groveland Four extended far beyond Lake and Madison Counties and
   76  is believed to have played a role in the deaths of National
   77  Association for the Advancement of Colored People leader Harry
   78  T. Moore and his wife, Harriette, who had advocated on behalf of
   79  the four men and were killed when their home in Mims was bombed
   80  on December 25, 1951, and
   81         WHEREAS, the people of this state recognize that no action
   82  on the part of the Legislature can make right the egregious
   83  wrongs perpetrated against Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin,
   84  Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas and their families by the
   85  criminal justice system, law enforcement agencies, and
   86  individuals whose actions were fueled by racial hatred, and
   87         WHEREAS, the families of Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin,
   88  Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas have demanded that steps be
   89  taken to clear the men’s names, NOW, THEREFORE,
   91  Be It Resolved by the Senate of the State of Florida, the House
   92  of Representatives Concurring:
   94         That we hereby acknowledge that Charles Greenlee, Walter
   95  Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas were the victims of
   96  gross injustices and that we apologize to the families of the
   97  Groveland Four for all of the aforementioned wrongs and deem the
   98  four men formally exonerated.
   99         BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Legislature urges the
  100  Governor and Cabinet to review the cases of Walter Irvin and
  101  Charles Greenlee and to grant Mr. Irvin and Mr. Greenlee
  102  pardons.
  103         BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this resolution be
  104  provided to the Governor, the Attorney General, the Chief
  105  Financial Officer, the Commissioner of Agriculture, and the
  106  families of the Groveland Four as a tangible token of the
  107  sentiments expressed herein.