As wrongfully imprisoned man is exonerated, attorneys announce launch of bite-mark conviction reviews

Robert DuBoise was fully exonerated Monday after being imprisoned for 37 years for crimes he did not commit. Credit: Innocence Project.

Robert DuBoise, wrongfully imprisoned for 37 years on rape and murder convictions, was fully exonerated Monday morning after DNA evidence proved his steadfast claims of innocence. DuBoise, then 18, now 55, was convicted in part on bite-mark evidence that has since been discredited.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Christopher Nash ordered the convictions be voided and DuBoise’s civil rights restored. The judge also expressed remorse that the judicial system had failed DuBoise for nearly four decades.

“I just hope these things don’t keep happening,” DuBoise said at a videocast press conference in Tampa about the miscarriage of justice in his case. Gesturing toward the attorneys at his sides, he said, “I really see hope now.”

The overturning of his wrongful conviction represents an historic advance in criminal justice that pairs defense attorneys with a new breed of prosecutors to investigate credible claims of wrongful convictions, especially old ones based on forensic science that would be rejected today.

In 1983, DuBoise was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of Barbara Grams. He was convicted on the testimony of a jailhouse informant and bite-mark evidence, now both discredited, and no physical evidence.

Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren and Susan Friedman, DuBoise’s New York-based attorney with the Innocence Project, a national nonprofit legal aid organization, announced Monday at a press conference that Warren’s office and Innocence Project investigators will now search for other convictions in Hillsborough County that relied on bite-mark evidence.

Warren and Friedman say they expect to find more wrongful conviction cases related to bite-mark evidence though they did not predict how many. Nationwide, the Innocence Project has identified 33 wrongful convictions that relied on bite-mark evidence.

The Innocence Project and its affiliates, such as the Innocence Project of Florida, have been seeking to partner with prosecutors for years, contributing to Florida’s establishment of several conviction review units in 2018 that collaborate with Innocence Project attorneys and investigators.

The Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office was among the first in Florida to found a conviction review unit and now is the first to initiate a circuit-wide review of convictions based on faulty bite-mark evidence.

Friedman, Warren and conviction review unit attorney Teresa Hall stressed that convictions would not be overturned just because bite-mark evidence was involved, but only if investigators find additional evidence of innocence.

At the court hearing, attorneys and expert witnesses explained to Judge Nash that the Florida dentist who concluded that DuBoise was in fact the person who caused a bite mark on Grams’ cheek was wrong and that the techniques he used to reach that conclusion would be rejected today.

Upon reexamination of the bite-mark evidence, DuBoise’s attorneys found forensic experts who determined it was not a human bite mark at all. Neither the dentist, Richard Souviron, nor the victim’s family participated in the proceedings Monday.

When recently discovered DNA evidence proved he could not have been the attacker, DuBoise was freed from Hardee Correctional Institution, a state prison, on Aug. 27. He served three of the 37 years on Death Row in fear of being executed, before his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

DuBoise, appearing composed and dressed in a suit bought for the occasion, said he would get on with his life with a profound sense of appreciation for the things he was unable to experience while imprisoned, such as walking outdoors at will to gaze at the night sky.

He said he intends to get a driver’s license and a job, having received several job offers.