DeSantis approves $1.85 million for wrongfully convicted Tampa man

Tribune Content Agency

TAMPA, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis approved a bill Friday that awards $1.85 million to Robert DuBoise, a Tampa man who spent 37 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

The bill passed both the Florida House and Senate in this year’s legislative session with near unanimous support. The governor’s signature means that DuBoise will receive compensation representing $50,000 for each year that he spent wrongfully incarcerated.

“I’m very grateful that the governor took time to read the bill and consider it, and sign it especially, so I can move forward with my life,” DuBoise told the Tampa Bay Times.

He said he got the good news in a call Friday morning from Mark Delegal of Delegal Aubuchon Consulting, the Tallahassee public policy firm that represented him in his efforts to obtain compensation.

It will still be a few weeks before the funds are processed. But the governor’s signature means his compensation is now part of state law.

DuBoise was 18 when Tampa police falsely accused him of the August 1983 murder of Barbara Grams.

Grams, 19, was attacked as she walked home from her job at a Tampa shopping mall. She was found the next morning having been raped and beaten to death. Detectives sought bite samples from numerous people, hoping to match a suspect’s teeth to what they believed was a bite mark on Grams’ cheek.

Richard Souviron, a renowned forensic dentist, opined that DuBoise’s teeth matched the mark on Grams. A jailhouse informant later provided testimony of a supposed confession that bolstered the state’s case.

DuBoise was convicted at trial in 1985. Judge Harry Lee Coe, a longtime Tampa jurist who was known as “Hangin’ Harry” for his harsh sentences, condemned him to die.

He spent three years on Florida’s death row before his sentence was reduced to life in prison.

He continued to contest his conviction. In the decades since, bite mark evidence has come to be widely regarded as scientifically unreliable. Jailhouse informants have also been identified as a frequent factor in wrongful convictions.

DuBoise’s case came to the attention of the Innocence Project, the New York-based legal organization that helps exonerate the innocent. They filed a petition with the conviction review unit of the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office.

The unit was established by former Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren in 2018 with aim of rooting out cases of people wrongfully imprisoned.

Much of the evidence in DuBoise’s case was destroyed in 1990. But conviction review attorney Teresa Hall located a set of slides that contained biological evidence from a rape exam conducted after Grams was found dead.

DNA tests of that evidence, which were not available in 1983, excluded DuBoise and yielded a match to two other men, who had no connection to him. The jailhouse informant in his case also later recanted his trial testimony.

DuBoise was set free in 2020.

Last year, Hillsborough prosecutors obtained an indictment against Amos Robinson and Abron Scott in connection with Grams’ murder. Both men are already serving life sentences for a 1983 Pinellas County murder. They have also been charged with the July 1983 murder of Linda Lansen, a Tampa freelance photographer whose killing was unsolved for nearly 40 years.

Since his exoneration, DuBoise has worked as a truck driver and maintenance man for a country club. He made repeated trips to Tallahassee this spring to share his story with lawmakers.

State Sen. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, was one of those who shepherded his claims bill through the legislature. When it came for a vote on the Senate floor, she spoke of it as an act of legislative grace.

“I think that we should be asking Mr. DuBoise for the grace,” Grall said. “Because we got it wrong. And sometimes we get it wrong. And when we do, we should always strive to do better and we should strive to make it right.”