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$1.85 Million Approved for Tampa Man Wrongfully Imprisoned for 37 Years

Robert DuBoise received the second most important call of his life on June 9, 2023, when a Tallahassee public policy firm phoned to let him know that the efforts to obtain $1.85 million in compensation for the 37 years he spent wrongfully imprisoned were successful.

The first and most important call had come in 2020 while he was still imprisoned, announcing he would be released. A Tampa jury had convicted DuBoise in 1985 of the rape and murder of 19-year-old Barbara Grams, basing the verdict on two leading causes of wrongful convictions — faulty forensic science and false testimony from a jailhouse informant. The jury recommended a life sentence, but Hillsborough County Judge “Hangin’ Harry” Lee Coe condemned him to die – another point since corrected. The American Bar Association notes that “now no state allows a trial judge to overrule a jury’s unanimous recommendation for life.” 

DuBoise spent three years on death row before the Florida Supreme Court vacated his death sentence and resentenced him to life, ruling that the trial court should have followed the jury’s recommendation. With the help of the Innocence Project and the conviction review unit (CRU) established by former Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren (D), DuBoise was exonerated in 2020. But as previously reported by PLN, DuBoise was locked out of the Florida compensation fund for victims of wrongful convictions by a “clean hands” provision in the 2008 law that prevented anyone with a prior violent felony conviction or multiple nonviolent felony convictions from collecting. DuBoise had received a four-year probated sentence at age 17 after being charged as an adult for burglary and grand theft. [See: PLN, Nov. 1, 2021, p.10.]

With the help of Delegal Aubuchon Consulting, a Tallahassee public policy firm, DuBoise made several trips to Florida’s capital to appear before committees and meet lawmakers. The firm represented the former death row prisoner on a pro bono basis to secure compensation for the 37 years DuBoise spent as an innocent man in a Florida prison cell. State lawmakers unanimously voted in April 2023 to compensate the 58-year-old $50,000 for every year he spent unjustly imprisoned. Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the bill on June 9, 2023.

“It’s been a privilege to work with Mr. DuBoise who, despite losing nearly four decades of his life, has shown immense grace and resolve throughout the process,” said Mark Delegal, a partner in the firm.

The money will help the Tampa truck driver and grounds maintenance worker buy a house and start a small business. DuBoise reacted to the award with humility saying, “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.”

State Sen. Erin Grall (R-Vero Beach) worked to push the bill through the Florida legislature. Before it came to a vote on the Senate floor, Grall called it “an act of legislative grace.” She said the state of Florida should be asking Mr. DuBoise for the grace because “we got it wrong.” She encouraged her fellow lawmakers to do better and right the wrongs they inflict.

For his efforts, Warren earned the ire of Tampa cops, prompting Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to remove him as Hillsborough State Attorney in August 2022. The federal court for the Northern District of Florida said the governor could not “properly suspend a state attorney based on policy differences,” but it could offer no relief for a violation of state law. That left Hillsborough County with an unelected prosecutor whom the governor appointed, Suzy Lopez, a staunch supporter who named her dog “Rhonda Santis.”

Meanwhile, a suit proceeds that DuBoise filed in the federal court for the Middle District of Florida against the City of Tampa and three of its police detectives, along with their supervisor, as well as a so-called “expert” who testified against him at his trial based on debunked “bitemark” evidence used to wrongfully convict him. He is represented in that case by the Human Rights Defense Center, the non-profit publisher of PLN and Criminal Legal News, along with attorneys from the Chicago firm of Loevy & Loevy. See: DuBoise v. City of Tampa, USDC (M. D. Fla.), Case No. 8-21-cv-02328.  

Additional sources: NBC News, Tampa Bay Times

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