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. 12 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, 115 116 Be It Resolved by the Senate of the State of Florida, the House 117 of Representatives Concurring: 118 119 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.