Wrongfully-convicted Tampa man finally freed after 37 years behind bars

Local News

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — After maintaining his innocence for 37 years, Robert DuBoise walked out of the Hardee Correctional Institute a free man Thursday.

Newly-discovered DNA evidence exonerates DuBoise, who was just 19 when a jury wrongfully convicted him in 1985 for the murder of Barbara Grams. Grams was found beaten and sexually battered between a Tampa Heights dental clinic in August 1983.

A judge originally handed DuBoise the death penalty, but that was later reduced to a life sentence through appeal.

Presented with that new evidence Thursday morning, Hillsborough County Circuit judge Christopher Nash moved to amend DuBoise’s life sentence to time served. DuBoise, flanked by his mother Myra and sister Harriet, walked out of prison head held high roughly six hours later.

“It’s a beautiful day,” he said, brimming with gratitude under the brutal August sun.

“This 37 year nightmare is over,” Harriet added.

Just in the last week, DNA evidence once thought to be destroyed ruled out 55-year-old DuBoise as Grams’ killer. Instead, it identified two other men. The Hillsborough County State Attorney’s office has opened an investigation.

DuBoise’s attorney, Susan Friedman with the Innocence Project, described the evidence used to convict her client as “all the ingredients” for a wrongful conviction. The prosecution had argued a bite mark on the victim’s face matched DuBoise’s teeth.

Not only has forensic odontology, the science of applying dentistry to criminal cases, since been discredited, but the “bite mark” on Grams’ face turned out to not be a bite mark at all.

Prosecutors also implicated DuBoise through the testimony of a jailhouse informant, a man who DuBoise met while awaiting trial who claimed DuBoise confessed to him.

Friedman says the state then released the informant from jail for his cooperation after securing DuBoise’s conviction, despite the informant facing a life sentence himself. Friedman described these types of “incentivized witnesses” should be approached with caution.

After nearly four decades in lockup he didn’t deserve, DuBoise said he was nervous but excited to make up for lost time.

One thing he has no time for, however, is resentment.

“If you have bitterness and hate in your heart, it just steals your joy from everything else,” he said.

The amended sentence was the most expeditious way to get DuBoise out of prison. The next step is to completely exonerate him. Judge Nash scheduled a Sept. 14 hearing for that motion.

Friedman said she could not comment when asking if she will pursue any further legal action for compensation for her client.

Florida has a wrongful conviction compensation program that provides at least $50,000 a year. It is unclear if DuBoise could qualify as he has a prior record for burglary and theft.

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