A 37-year-long nightmare in prison is over: Innocent man is going free today

Florida inmate Robert DuBoise has been fully exonerated after 37 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Credit: Innocence Project.

Robert DuBoise, wrongfully imprisoned for 37 years, was set free Thursday.

He spent those years in state prisons for a rape and murder he didn’t commit. Sentenced to death, he lived in fear of being executed for three years before his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

“I never lost faith that today would come. Now the world knows DNA proves I did not commit this crime,” DuBoise said in a statement provided by his attorneys. “I can never regain the birthdays, holidays and precious time I lost with them, nevermind the life I could have made for myself. I am grateful to be here, now with a chance to move forward, but I know there are more innocent people like me still behind bars.”

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

Following an investigation started by attorneys at the nonprofit legal organization Innocence Project, a Hillsborough County circuit judge ordered that DuBoise be set free from Hardee Correctional Institution.

“He was overjoyed. He said this was like waking up from a nightmare,” said Susan Friedman, DuBoise’s Innocence Project attorney. “His family has repeatedly told me this has been a 37-year-long nightmare for them as well.”

Friedman, speaking at video press conference Thursday, said DuBoise’s case had “all the ingredients of a wrongful conviction,” including reliance on testimony from a jailhouse informant and a dearth of hard evidence.

Innocence Project attorney Susan Friedman worked for two years to prove DuBoise innocent. He was set free Thursday. Screenshot from video press conference.

“We see this a lot,” Friedman said. “We knew immediately that he was an innocent man.”

DuBoise was sentenced to death and spent three years on Death Row before the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

After working to dismantle the case about DuBoise, the Innocence Project brought its findings to the conviction review unit of the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office. The conviction review unit, created just two years ago, launched its own investigation and unearthed evidence proving through DNA testing that DuBoise was innocent.

Attorney Teresa Hall discovered forgotten tissue samples, found in the local Medical Examiner’s office, that exonerated DuBoise and identified two other men as suspects in the brutal murder of Barbara Grams in 1983.

Hall said Thursday at the press conference that she is proud to be working for a unit dedicated to finding and overturning wrongful convictions from years past.

State Attorney Andrew Warren said the wrongful conviction may have left DuBoise in prison for the rest of his life if not for the commitment of the Innocence Project and his office’s creation of the conviction review unit, among the first in Florida.

“I’m determined that we continue pressing forward with our conviction review unit to identify and fix mistakes, to right those wrongs of the past, and to restore confidence and faith in our criminal justice system,” Warren said in a videocast press conference in Tampa.

Laura Cassels
Veteran journalist Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, has a home in Tallahassee and has a farm in South Georgia, where her extended family grows blueberries, grapes and pecans. She is a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper. Contact her at [email protected]