A Florida trial court has freed a former death-row prisoner after local prosecutors said new DNA evidence had proven his innocence of the rape and murder for which he was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death 37 years ago.

Based on junk-science bite-mark evidence and false testimony from a prison informant, Robert DuBoise (pictured with his mother, Myra, following his release) was convicted of raping and murdering 19-year-old Barbara Grams. The jury unanimously recommended that DuBoise be sentenced to life, but his trial judge, Henry Lee Coe III, overrode their recommendation and sentenced DuBoise to be executed in Florida’s electric chair.

DuBoise was released from the Hardee Correctional Institution in Bowling Green, Florida, August 27, 2020, one day after Hillsborough prosecutors and lawyers from the national Innocence Project and the Innocence Project of Florida presented Circuit Judge Christopher Nash with evidence of his innocence. Working with State Attorney Andrew Warren’s Conviction Integrity Unit, the parties told the court that there was in fact no bite mark and that DNA evidence from an untested rape kit excluded DuBoise and implicated two other men.

In February 1988, the Florida Supreme Court overturned DuBoise’s death sentence, ruling that the trial court should not have overridden the jury’s sentencing recommendation and directing that DuBoise be resentenced to life imprisonment. Judge Nash reduced that sentence to time served and set a September 14 hearing date for the presentation of evidence to overturn his conviction.

DuBoise was greeted outside the prison by his mother, Myra, his sister, Harriet, and Innocence Project lawyer, Susan Friedman. After hugging his mother, he spoke to an assemblage of reporters and cameras.

“It’s a beautiful day,” he said.

Robert DuBoise speaks to reporters out­side the Hardee Correctional Institution fol­low­ing his release. Screenshot of WFTS, Tampa cov­er­age of his release. Above pho­to: Martha Asencio-Rhine, Tampa Bay Times

DuBoise has not yet been officially exonerated. That will occur when the charges against him are formally dismissed. Warren said that his office was preparing court papers to complete the exoneration process.

“Wrongful convictions are contrary to the very fiber of our system,” Warren said at a news conference following the court’s action. “They punish the innocent while allowing the actual perpetrator to go free. They erode confidence and trust in our system because, when you have a wrongful conviction, it means that we failed to do the most fundamental thing we’re supposed to do, which is to find the truth.”

“I’m proud that we were able to play a role in freeing an innocent man,” he continued. “I’m comforted by knowing that we’ve provided the truth now to this community, and especially to the victim’s family who were given false closure based on a false story all these years.”

When the charges are formally dismissed, DuBoise will become Florida’s 30th death-row exoneree since 1973, the most in the nation. The state has executed 99 prisoners during that period, or one exoneration for every 3.3 executions.

Until 2016, Florida permitted trial judges to impose death sentences despite jury recommendations for life or based on non-unanimous jury votes for death. Including DuBoise’s case in the calculations, 22 of the 24 Florida exonerations for which the jury’s sentencing vote is known (91.7%) have been in these cases. No state any longer permits a judge to override a jury’s recommendation for life. Alabama still allows trial judges to impose the death penalty based upon a jury’s 10-2 or 11-1 vote for death. Indiana and Missouri permit a judge to determine the sentence if jurors cannot reach a unanimous sentencing verdict.

Florida’s last death-row exoneration was in the case of Clifford Williams, Jr., who was freed in March 2019 after serving 42 years for a murder he did not commit. DuBoise will be the 171st documented death-row exoneration in the U.S. since 1973.


Dan Sullivan, After 37 years, he’s free. Exonerated man walks out of Florida prison, Tampa Bay Times, August 27, 2020; Curt Anderson and Tamara Lush, Innocent Florida inmate released after 37 years, Associated Press, August 27, 2020; Emily McCain and Heather Leigh, It’s a beau­ti­ful day’ | Tampa man walks free after 37 years in prison for mur­der, WFTS-TV, Tampa, August 27, 2020; Staff, Innocence Project Client Robert DuBoise Released After Nearly 37 Years in Prison for 1983 Tampa Murder, The Innocence Project, August 272020

Photo of Robert DuBois hug­ging his moth­er by Martha Asencio-Rhine, Tampa Bay Times.