Man formerly on Florida death row says Tampa police framed him, files lawsuit

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Florida man who was on death row and exonerated 37 years later is now suing the City of Tampa, officers on the case and a forensic consultant for allegedly framing him for the rape and murder of a Tampa woman.

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.

DuBoise was 18-years-old at the time, and was convicted in 1985. According to the Florida Innocence Project, DuBoise was sentenced to death by Judge Harry Lee Coe III, despite a jury recommendation of a life sentence.

In 1988, the death sentence was vacated in favor of life in prison.

According to the State Attorney’s Office, some evidence from the case was presumed to have been destroyed in the intervening years.

In August 2020, an attorney with the CRU found rape kit samples that had not been used during DuBoise’s trial. It was submitted for DNA testing by the Innocence Project and showed that DuBoise’s DNA was not present. Instead, genetic evidence in the sample came from two other men.

(Robert DuBoise with his mother, Myra; courtesy of Loevy and Loevy Attorneys at Law)

Over 11 months, the Innocence Project worked with the CRU to investigate the conviction, and determined that DuBoise did not commit the crime. The SAO filed a motion to release DuBoise after nearly 37 years in prison, three of which were on death row. On Aug. 27, 2020, DuBoise walked free.

According to the Innocence Project, “Knowing that their physical evidence was poor at best, the defendant officers allegedly then conspired to get two informants, including one suspect facing a long-term sentence for unrelated crimes, to turn state’s evidence. One suspect falsely claimed that DuBoise confessed the murder to him, but his story changed significantly in various recountings. This witnesses allegedly failed a polygraph test, but that and other exculpatory evidence was suppressed by the defendant officers.”

As a result of the CRU investigation, the state of Florida pronounced DuBoise’s case a nolle prosequi, or a formal abandonment of the case on Sept. 14, 2020. His motion for postconviction relief was approved and his judgment was vacated, but the amount of the settlement has complicated receiving what DuBoise is owed by Florida.

The investigation by CRU and the Innocence Project is reportedly the first such audit performed by a unit of its type.

Typically, the state provides $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration for those imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. At almost 37 years behind bars, DuBoise would be owed $1.85 million. To see that money, the state legislature must vote to approve the amount and pay it.

Florida lawmakers have started that process.

Hillsborough County’s Rep. Andrew Learned for Florida House District 59, submitted HB 6501 to the legislature for the 2022 session. State Sen. Jeff Brandes submitted SB 52 as well.

Sen. Brandes’s office responded to a request for comment by 8 On Your Side, saying in part:

Mr. DuBoise was convicted in 1985 of capital murder and attempted sexual battery.  He was ultimately sentenced to life in prison.  Since his arrest, Mr. DuBoise has maintained his innocence. Recently, the Conviction Review Unit (CRU) in the State Attorney’s office reviewed the case.  Following a comprehensive investigation, the CRU determined Mr. DuBoise did not commit the crimes.  DNA evidence excluded him as the assailant, and it identified another person in CODIS.  The CRU also issued a lengthy and detailed report concluding that his convictions should be vacated and that he should be exonerated of all charges. This claims bill awards compensation in the amount of $1.85 million, representing $50,000 per year for each year Mr. DuBoise was wrongfully incarcerated.

Statement from Sen. Jeff Brandes on SB 52

Both bills, if either version passes during the 2022 session, would approve the monetary relief owed by the state for his years wrongfully in prison.

“Taking a man’s liberty, almost his life, is an unconscionable error by our State. DNA evidence that was initially ignored fingered the real criminal so now Robert is free, but without any compensation for what we took from him,” Rep. Learned said in a statement on Twitter.

In addition to the settlement with the state over his incarceration, DuBoise is also suing the police officers who worked the case leading to his wrongful conviction, as well as the City of Tampa and forensic odontologist Dr. Richard R. Souviron.

The complaint filed by DuBoise’s legal team alleges that Tampa detectives and Dr. Souviron fabricated evidence and conspired to secure his wrongful conviction. The lawsuit names Richard R. Souviron, Det. Phillip Saladino, Det. K.E. Burke, the Estate of Det. John Counsman, and Sgt. R.H. Price, and the City of Tampa as defendants and seeks damages for DuBoise’s time in prison and requests a trial by jury.

Det. Counsman died before the legal complaint was filed, according to the document, his estate is named as defendant in his place.

Responding to a request for comment, the Tampa Police Department said they do not comment on pending litigation.

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