‘I’m not bitter’: Former Florida death row inmate suing Tampa police, wants to fix broken system

Hillsborough County

TAMPA (WFLA) – After nearly four decades behind bars, for a crime, he didn’t commit, a Tampa Bay area man is finally free and now suing the city of Tampa, as well as the Tampa Police Department.

Robert DuBoise was released from prison in 2020 following a reexamination of the case by the Conviction Review Unit in the Office of the State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit. The case stems from the 1983 murder and rape of 19-year-old Barbara Grams.

Now, at age 56, DuBoise is a free man after DNA evidence exonerated him last year as Florida’s Innocence Project and the Hillsborough State Attorneys Office conducted a thorough, in-depth review of his case.

For that, this former death row inmate says he is, and will always be, beyond grateful for those who helped him gain his freedom and reestablish his life.

This lawsuit is not about the money, he told 8 On Your Side, it’s about justice and accountability. Typically, the state of Florida provides $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration. According to his attorney, DuBoise should be awarded a settlement of $1.85 million.

However, the awaiting compensatory action is far from immediate. The lawsuit must now wind its way through the judicial system, as well as receive approval from the state legislature.

DuBoise’s story could easily have been one of anger, hate and revenge. Instead, his view of the world is quite the opposite. This former death row inmate is filled with hope, gratitude and most of all, faith in his future.

“I had my faith, I knew God would get me through this. I had to believe that,” he said.

Duboise maintains that the nightmare began when he says he was framed by Tampa police officers in the mid-1980s. The lawsuit filed by his attorney, Dan Marshall, includes the city of Tampa, the police department, and a forensic specialist who played a key role in the trial.

“I’m not bitter toward any of them,” he told 8 On Your Side. “What’s done is done, and we are trying to move forward, make sure it doesn’t happen to someone else.”

A jury found Duboise guilty of raping and killing a young woman in Tampa, 19-year-old Barbara Grams, sending him to prison in 1985. It was that conviction, according to Duboise, that began a life of terror behind bars.

“I know people would say, man, God will not let you sit there for all this time. I said, listen, it’s a broken world. We don’t know what’s going on. If anyone is going to get me out of here, it’s going to be God. I’ve just got to keep my faith,” DuBoise said.

For years, the now-56-year-old says he woke up every morning terrified and alone – but hopeful. He maintained his innocence, even as he sat on death row, endlessly frustrated, but also consistently faithful.
He never gave up, he says, and that’s part of the reason he says he filed this lawsuit.

“It’s very frustrating waking up every morning in prison for something you didn’t do, and you’re fighting a system with and less resources, and you have no resources. You’re helpless,” DuBoise said.

Duboise says while he is grateful to be free, after losing an entire lifetime when he was exonerated in 2020, he came back to a world he doesn’t recognize.

“I got out of prison, and there’s so much that I don’t understand. You have cell phones now. We didn’t have cell phones then, we had payphones that cost a dime. So, I came back out, and you have this thing called self check out. You have Walmart, Home Depot, Lowes. They just didn’t exist back then. The entire world is different,” Duboise said.

In addition, the skills he now uses for his current job came from the most unusual place.

“Ironically, I came from death row where I was waiting to be executed by electricity to be in the prison electrician so yeah that’s what I did all these years,” he said.

His is a story of survival, redemption and second chances. He says he is hoping it is a story that will inspire others.

“I work very hard. I’m honest, and I just want to help fix a broken system,” he told us.

The Tampa Police Department and the city declined to comment on the case because it is considered current litigation.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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