Tampa Man Cleared in 1983 Murder After 37-Years In Prison

August 26, 2020

By: Staff Report

TAMPA, Fla. – Robert Duboise has served a total of 37- years in Florida State Prison for the death of Barbara Grams, a 19-year-old Tampa murder victim, a crime he didn’t commit.

Robert Duboise SOURCE: FDLE

DuBoise was indicted for first-degree murder and sexual battery. The body of the victim, Barbara Grams, was found behind a dentist’s office in Tampa in 1983. The evidence showed that when found, the body of the victim bore a bite mark. The medical examiner testified that the victim died as a result of two blows to the head inflicted with a blunt instrument. The same medical expert also testified that the bite mark occurred roughly around the time of death. The examiner also found semen in the vagina indicating sexual intercourse could have occurred up to seventy-two hours before death.

Today State Atorrney Andrew Warren announced that with the help of the Innocence Project and DNA evidence, Duboise has been cleared in this murder case.

“Wrongful convictions erode the foundation of our justice system. For 37-years, we’ve had an innocent man locked up in prison—while the real perpetrator was never held accountable for this heinous crime,” State Attorney Warren said. “The family of the victim, Barbara Grams, deserves to have the truth, and this new evidence helps reveal that truth to all of us.”

In September 2019, the Innocence Project submitted a petition to the Conviction Review Unit, or CRU, on behalf of DuBoise, a 55-year-old man incarcerated at Hardee Correctional Institution. The CRU works to identify, investigate, and remedy wrongful convictions from the past. State Attorney Warren established the unit in November 2018, creating one of the first conviction review units in a Florida prosecutor’s office.

Forensic DNA testing was not advanced enough in 1983 for use in prosecution, so rape kit samples recovered from the victim were collected and stored away. Evidence stored from DuBoise’s trial was presumed to have been destroyed in 1990, making new DNA testing seemingly impossible. However, in August 2020, in the course of her thorough review of the case, CRU Supervising Attorney Teresa Hall was able to locate rape kit samples that were not used during the trial, still intact, at the Hillsborough Medical Examiner’s Office. The samples were retrieved, and the CRU and Innocence Project promptly sent them for DNA testing.

The results showed that DuBoise’s DNA was not present in the samples. The results identified DNA from two other men—one classified as a “major contributor,” and one classified as a “minor contributor.” One of the men, the major contributor of DNA, has been identified and is a person of interest in an ongoing investigation. While the State Attorney’s Office cannot share the details at this time of this new and ongoing investigation, we have determined that the person of interest poses no threat to public safety in our community.

The evidence used to originally convict DuBoise at his trial was very limited and highly unreliable. The only physical evidence placing him at the scene was a supposed bitemark on the victim’s face that an expert claimed matched DuBoise. The scientific community now considers bitemark evidence unreliable in identifying perpetrators in criminal cases such as this, and a current expert has determined the injury was not, in fact, a bitemark at all.

“Despite all the safeguards in our system, when science tells us we have convicted the wrong person, we must listen and act,” Warren said. “It’s time to right a wrong that dates back 37 years. I apologize to Mr. DuBoise on behalf of the entire justice system. We can’t give him back the time he’s lost, but from the moment we learned of this case, my CRU worked diligently to research the facts, find the truth, and request his release. A prosecutor’s job is to seek justice, and that obligation to seek justice never ends.”

Innocence Project attorney Susan Friedman represents DuBoise and has worked for years on his case, uncovering compelling evidence of his innocence. One piece of evidence included an expert opinion that the injury on the victim was not a bitemark, and a second showed that the jailhouse informant who testified against DuBoise was not credible.

The jailhouse informant testified that DuBoise told him two other men had murdered the victim while DuBoise raped her. The Innocence Project discovered significant inconsistencies in his original testimony. The new DNA evidence now clearly refutes the informant’s testimony; the DNA does not match any of the three men that the informant said were involved in the rape and murder.

“Robert has spent more than 36 years in prison because of discredited bitemark evidence and the testimony of an unreliable jailhouse informant. The presence of DNA from two other people is indisputable scientific proof that he is innocent. Robert has spent decades determined to show that he was wrongfully convicted, and we are eager to see him fully exonerated. We are thankful that the CRU joined us in this effort to seek justice for Robert, the victim, and their families,” Friedman said.

The State and defense jointly filed the request to release DuBoise, called a “3.800 motion,” with the 13th Judicial Circuit today. Judge Christopher Nash will hear the motion promptly at 8:30 a.m. Thursday via Zoom. Details on how to watch the remote hearing are available at the 13th Judicial Circuit’s website. If the Court approves the motion at that hearing, DuBoise is expected to be released later that day.

The State and defense are handling the process in two steps. The hearing Thursday would reduce DuBoise’s sentence to equal the amount of time he has already served behind bars. This will allow him to be promptly released from prison. After he has been released, The Innocence Project and CRU will pursue a more complex and time-consuming “3.850 motion” in the coming weeks, asking the court to completely reverse his conviction and exonerate him.

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