Overlooked rape kit sample proves FL man imprisoned for 37 years is innocent

Long-neglected DNA evidence now proves Robert DuBoise, imprisoned for 37 years on rape and murder convictions, didn't do it. Credit: Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office

Evidence from a rape kit from 1983 proved this month that Robert DuBoise, imprisoned in Hardee County for 37 years on rape and murder convictions, is innocent.

Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren announced that he filed a motion in circuit court Wednesday afternoon to overturn the wrongful conviction and set DuBoise free. If the judge approves on Thursday, DuBoise can go free the same day.

“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,” Warren said in a press conference. “The family of the victim, Barbara Grams, deserves to have the truth, and this new evidence helps reveal that truth to all of us.”

Innocence Project attorney Susan Friedman, who worked for years to prove DuBoise’s innocence, brought his case to the attention of Warren’s Conviction Review Unit last September.

She argued that the only evidence purported to place DuBoise at the scene of the crime was a bitemark attributed to DuBoise though a current expert determined the injury was actually not a bitemark at all, Warren said.

Also, Friedman unraveled pivotal testimony from a jailhouse informant that has since been completely disproved, Warren said.

In the course of her investigation, the Conviction Review Unit’s supervising attorney Teresa Hall located samples in the local Medical Examiner’s Office that had been retained from a rape kit in the case and which contained DNA proof of DuBoise’s innocence. In fact, the samples identified two other men as the attackers, Warren said.

According to Warren, the DNA evidence was “presumed to have been destroyed” after not being used in the trial. DNA testing was still new then and not widely used for identification purposes. Florida law now requires that such samples be preserved.

“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 in a prepared statement.

DuBoise, 55, has been incarcerated since he was 18, most recently at Hardee Correctional Institution.

Conviction review units – which investigate and try to remedy wrongful convictions – represent a new field for prosecutors. Florida founded its first such units in the fall of 2018.

The Innocence Project of Florida is working to expedite reviews and exoneration proceedings for inmates it believes are innocent, in hopes of freeing them before they contract COVID-19 in prison.