Florida Senate - 2017                             CS for SCR 920
       By the Committee on Rules; and Senators Farmer, Torres, Bracy,
       and Perry
       595-03757-17                                           2017920c1
    1                    Senate Concurrent Resolution                   
    2         A concurrent resolution acknowledging the grave
    3         injustices perpetrated against Charles Greenlee,
    4         Walter Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, who
    5         came to be known as “the Groveland Four”; offering a
    6         formal and heartfelt apology to these victims of
    7         racial hatred and to their families; and urging the
    8         Governor and Cabinet to perform an expedited clemency
    9         review of the cases of Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin,
   10         Samuel Shephard, and Ernest Thomas, including granting
   11         full pardons.
   13         WHEREAS, on July 16, 1949, a 17-year-old white woman and
   14  her estranged husband reported to police that she had been
   15  abducted at approximately 2:30 a.m., driven approximately 25
   16  minutes to a dead-end road, and raped by four black men after
   17  the car in which she and her estranged husband were riding broke
   18  down on a rural road outside Groveland in Lake County, and
   19         WHEREAS, Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin, and Samuel
   20  Shepherd were charged with rape, while Ernest Thomas was
   21  presumed guilty of the crime, and
   22         WHEREAS, Charles Greenlee, who was 16 years old in July
   23  1949, was being detained 20 miles away by two retail store night
   24  watchmen at approximately the same time at which the alleged
   25  attack occurred, and
   26         WHEREAS, the estranged husband stated on two separate
   27  occasions that Charles Greenlee was not one of the young men
   28  present when his car broke down on July 16, 1949, and
   29         WHEREAS, Charles Greenlee denied that he and Ernest Thomas
   30  ever met Samuel Shephard, Walter Irvin, the alleged victim, or
   31  her estranged husband, and
   32         WHEREAS, Walter Irvin and Samuel Shepherd, both World War
   33  II veterans, acknowledged that they had stopped by the broken
   34  down vehicle to see if they could assist the couple, but denied
   35  any involvement in the alleged rape, and
   36         WHEREAS, after their arrest that evening, Charles Greenlee,
   37  Walter Irvin, and Samuel Shepherd were severely beaten in the
   38  basement of the county jail; Charles Greenlee and Samuel
   39  Shepherd were coerced into confessing to the crime; and Walter
   40  Irvin steadfastly maintained his innocence despite repeated
   41  beatings, and
   42         WHEREAS, Ernest Thomas, understanding the racial realities
   43  of the time and the danger he was in, escaped Lake County before
   44  law enforcement could locate him, and
   45         WHEREAS, after being hunted for more than 30 hours through
   46  at least 25 miles of swampland in Madison County by an armed,
   47  deputized posse of approximately 1,000 men with bloodhounds,
   48  Ernest Thomas was killed in a hail of gunfire as he slept beside
   49  a tree before he could answer questions or declare his
   50  innocence, and
   51         WHEREAS, the three surviving men, Charles Greenlee, Walter
   52  Irvin, and Samuel Shepherd, were tried and convicted in the
   53  case, with Charles Greenlee sentenced to life imprisonment due
   54  to his young age and Walter Irvin and Samuel Shepherd sentenced
   55  to death, and
   56         WHEREAS, the judge who presided at the men’s trial denied
   57  the men’s attorneys access to an exculpatory medical report of
   58  the alleged rape victim and barred testimony regarding the three
   59  men being repeatedly and brutally beaten by law enforcement
   60  officers, and
   61         WHEREAS, Thurgood Marshall, then-Executive Director of the
   62  NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, appealed the
   63  convictions of Walter Irvin and Samuel Shepherd to the United
   64  States Supreme Court, which unanimously overturned the judgments
   65  on April 9, 1951, and ordered a retrial, and
   66         WHEREAS, 7 months later, on November 6, 1951, as Walter
   67  Irvin and Samuel Shepherd were being transported from Florida
   68  State Prison in Raiford to Tavares Road Prison for a pretrial
   69  hearing, Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall shot both men on a
   70  dirt road leading into Umatilla, claiming the handcuffed men
   71  were trying to escape, and
   72         WHEREAS, Samuel Shepherd died at the scene as a result of
   73  his wounds, immeasurably compounding the suffering of his
   74  hardworking, close-knit family whose home had been burned to the
   75  ground by a mob in the days immediately following reports of the
   76  alleged rape, and
   77         WHEREAS, during an interview with an investigator sent by
   78  then-Governor Fuller Warren, Walter Irvin stated that, after he
   79  had been shot twice by Sheriff McCall, Deputy Sheriff James L.
   80  Yates shot him through the neck as he lay on the ground
   81  handcuffed to the deceased Samuel Shephard, and
   82         WHEREAS, the Federal Bureau of Investigation discovered a
   83  .38-caliber bullet directly beneath a blood spot marking where
   84  Walter Irvin lay, providing forensic corroboration of Walter
   85  Irvin’s statement that he was shot while lying on the ground,
   86  and
   87         WHEREAS, Walter Irvin, who pretended to be dead, survived
   88  despite a delay in treatment caused by the hospital’s refusal to
   89  transport him in an ambulance due to his race, and
   90         WHEREAS, Walter Irvin was retried and convicted a second
   91  time for the alleged rape and was sentenced to death, despite
   92  the fact that a former Federal Bureau of Investigation
   93  criminologist stated that he believed forensic evidence had been
   94  manufactured by law enforcement, and
   95         WHEREAS, Walter Irvin’s sentence was commuted to life in
   96  prison in 1955 by then-Governor LeRoy Collins after the
   97  prosecuting attorney, who twice convicted Walter Irvin, stated
   98  in a letter that not only was a life sentence more appropriate,
   99  but that Walter Irvin maintained his innocence even after being
  100  shot when he believed himself to be dying, and
  101         WHEREAS, Walter Irvin was found dead in his car while
  102  visiting Lake County for a funeral in 1969, 1 year after being
  103  paroled by then-Governor Claude R. Kirk, Jr., and
  104         WHEREAS, Charles Greenlee, who was paroled in 1960 at the
  105  age of 27, died in April 2012 at the age of 78, and
  106         WHEREAS, the people of this state recognize that no action
  107  on the part of the Legislature can make right the egregious
  108  wrongs perpetrated against Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin,
  109  Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas and their families by the
  110  criminal justice system, law enforcement agencies, and
  111  individuals whose actions were fueled by racial hatred, and
  112         WHEREAS, the families of Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin,
  113  Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas have demanded that steps be
  114  taken to clear the men’s names, NOW, THEREFORE,
  116  Be It Resolved by the Senate of the State of Florida, the House
  117  of Representatives Concurring:
  119         That we hereby acknowledge that Charles Greenlee, Walter
  120  Irvin, Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas, who came to be known
  121  as “the Groveland Four,” were the victims of gross injustices
  122  and that their abhorrent treatment by the criminal justice
  123  system is a shameful chapter in this state’s history.
  124         BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we hereby extend a heartfelt
  125  apology to the families of Charles Greenlee, Walter Irvin,
  126  Samuel Shepherd, and Ernest Thomas for the enduring sorrow
  127  caused by the criminal justice system’s failure to protect their
  128  basic constitutional rights.
  129         BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Legislature urges the
  130  Governor and Cabinet to expedite review of the cases of Charles
  131  Greenlee, Walter Irvin, Samuel Shephard, and Ernest Thomas as
  132  part of the Governor’s and Cabinet’s constitutional authority to
  133  grant clemency, including granting full pardons.
  134         BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this resolution be
  135  provided to the Governor, the Attorney General, the Chief
  136  Financial Officer, the Commissioner of Agriculture, and the
  137  families of the Groveland Four as a tangible token of the
  138  sentiments expressed herein.