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Florida DA Reopens Cold Murder Case, Exonerates Wrongly Imprisoned Man, Finds Real Killers – and Gets Axed by Governor

by David M. Reutter

On August 4, 2022, nearly 40 years after the brutal 1983 murder of 19-year-old Barbara Grams in Tampa, the indictments of two men for the crime were announced by Hillsborough County District Attorney (DA) Andrew Warren. The news highlighted the grave injustice done to 56-year-old Robert Duboise, who spent 34 years on death row for Grams’ killing before DNA evidence exonerated him and he was released in August 2020. [See: PLN, Nov. 2021, p.10.]

The same day that indictments were handed down against the two suspects Warren identified, Amos Robinson, 59, and Abron Scott, 57, the elected DA was summarily dismissed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). The governor, who is widely seen as a potential candidate for the GOP Presidential nomination in 2024, accused Warren of dodging his duties by promising not to prosecute women who seek an abortion or their doctors, nor parents who seek gender-affirming care for their transgender children.

However, the governor failed to mention that both promises referred to potential laws not yet passed – in other words, that he was firing the prosecutor for failing to enforce non-existent laws. Also left unsaid was that by identifying the botched case against Duboise, Warren’s Conviction Integrity Unity left Tampa Police with a black eye – and a grudge, apparently.

“Andrew Warren is a fraud,” declared former Chief Brian Dugan.

The day Warren was walked off the job, he announced indictments against Robinson and Scott not only for Grams’ murder but also for fatally shooting another woman, 41-year-old Linda Lansen, a week before. Both men are currently incarcerated for kidnapping and fatally beating 33-year-old Carlos Orellana just months after they allegedly killed Grams and Lansen.

The ex-DA filed suit in federal court for the Northern District of Florida, seeking to force DeSantis to reinstate him. In a 59-page ruling issued on January 29, 2023, Judge Robert M. Hinkle excoriated the governor for violating Warren’s First Amendment free speech rights, as well as provisions of the state Constitution. “A governor cannot properly suspend a state attorney based on policy differences,” Judge Hinkle observed.

However, he stopped short of ordering Warren’s reinstatement, admitting that a federal court may not award “relief of the kind at issue against a state official based only on a violation of state law.” See: Warren v. DeSantis, USDC (N.D. Fla.), Case No. 4:22-cv-00302.

“The trial was a search for the truth, and over the past five months, the truth has come out,” Warren said after the ruling. “The suspension was always a political stunt.”

A stunt that left Hillsborough County with an unelected DA, Suzy Lopez, who is such a staunch supporter of the governor that she named her dog “Rhonda Santis.” One of her first moves was to rescind another prosecutorial guardrail Warren erected against enforcing Tampa Police citations issued to cyclists, the vast majority of them African-American. A 2016 study by the federal Department of Justice found that the city had done much criminalize “biking while Black.”

Warren sent a letter to the governor after the Court’s ruling, asking for reinstatement. That’s probably not going to happen, despite Judge Hinkle’s opinion that if the governor doesn’t rescind his decision, “it will be doubly clear that the alleged non-prosecution policies were not the real motivation for the suspension.”

“The idea that a governor can break federal and state law to suspend an elected official should send shivers down the spine of anyone who cares about free speech, the integrity of our elections or the rule of law,” Warren said. 

Additional sources: Daily Beast, NBC News, Tampa Bay Times, WFLA

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