A Circuit Court judge has denied a request to exhume the bodies from gravesites at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.
In the court order, Judge William Wright of Jackson County Circuit Court states the petition was denied because the Petitioner "failed to meet the threshold for an order granting exhumation in a civil case," and that the "Interim Report prepared by the University of South Florida does not provide any information or opinion regarding what physical evidence is likely to be found that will lead to the identification of the human remains or a determination of the causes of death."
A local survivor of the school said it's just a temporary roadblock in the search to find the remains of so many boys who were forgotten.
From his home in Clearwater, Robert Straley remembers the first day he walked into the Dozier School for Boys.
The year was 1963 and Straley was just 13 years old.
Looking back, Straley calls it "one of the most horrible times of my life, if not the worst."
On the first night, he said men in charge gave him the first of three floggings during his 10 and a half months there.
"I was in a state of shock,” Straley said. “I didn't even know what was going on. It was like it was happening to somebody else. It was like a bad nightmare."
Investigators said the beatings went on at the school for nearly 70 years and some of the boys would simply disappear.
But then in 2007, Straley and others began asking questions and wanted to know where those boys ended up.
While doing forensic research on the school's grounds, a team of USF researchers uncovered dozens of shallow graves. Straley believes there are many, many more.
It caught the attention of Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi who requested a court order to have a medical examiner exhume and identify the bodies and determine a cause of death.
In a statement, Bondi vowed the ruling wouldn't stop her from getting the truth.
“I remain committed to assisting with the efforts to help resolve unanswered questions regarding deaths at the Dozier School for Boys,” Bondi said. “In light of today’s adverse ruling, we will be meeting with the interested parties and considering the next course of action to explore other avenues.”
As for Straley, he said he’s disappointed with the ruling but believes in the end, justice will prevail.
"Closure?” he asked. “Yes,” he said. “Is it ever going to have a happy ending? No, but hopefully they will find all of those boys and they will put them in a proper cemetery and they will make a memorial to all of the boys that they don't find because they're never going to find them all.”
Meantime, Senator Bill Nelson is asking for federal funds for USF researchers to continue their work of identifying the remains with DNA technology. He did not comment on Friday's ruling.
Those USF researchers could get a boost from the state.
According to our partners at the Tampa Bay Times, the Florida Senate's proposed budget includes $200,000 for Dozier school research.
The House is also granting a $190,000 request from USF.