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A Florida man who was wrongfully convicted of raping and murdering a woman walked free Thursday after 37 years behind bars.
Very little pointed to 18-year-old Robert DuBoise as the man responsible for the vicious rape and murder of 19-year-old Barbara Grams, who was found bludgeoned to death in August 1983. In fact, the original prosecution’s case rested rested primarily on two pieces of evidence: the testimony of a fellow inmate, and a wound on the woman's cheek that a dental expert identified as a bite mark from DuBoise's teeth, according to court documents obtained by Oxygen.com.
DuBoise was found guilty and initially sentenced to death, according to the documents. This sentence was later reduced to life in prison – and that’s where he remained for more than three decades.
DuBoise appealed his case in 2006, hoping to prove his innocence with DNA evidence that couldn't be properly processed in the '80s, local station WTSP reports. However, evidence on the case was presumed destroyed in 1990, apparently as part of a routine process, Grayson Kamm, communications officer for the Office of the State Attorney, 13th Judicial Circuit, said in a phone interview with Oxygen.com.
That process has since been abolished, Kamm said.
Florida’s newly established Conviction Review Unit agreed to review DuBoise’s case in September 2019, according to a timeline the state attorney’s office provided to Oxygen.com. By that point, Grams was being represented by Innocence Project attorney Susan Friedman.
Major problems in the case quickly emerged.
For one thing, the injury on Grams’ cheek likely wasn’t a bite mark at all – and even if it was, bite marks are no longer considered reliable evidence in identifying suspects, according to new expert testimony referenced in a state attorney's office press release.
The testimony of DuBoise’s fellow inmate was also called into doubt. The inmate claimed that DuBoise had confessed to raping and murdering Grams alongside two other men, Teresa Hall, supervising attorney for the Conviction Review Unit, said in a Thursday hearing. At the time, the inmate, who was facing a life sentence, claimed he’d received no promises in exchange for testimony. But the inmate was released from prison just 18 months after DuBoise's conviction, Hall said.
Finally, the Conviction Review Unit discovered that Grams’ rape kit hadn’t been destroyed after all. It had instead been held in storage at the local medical examiner’s office, according to the case timeline.
A lab was able to “conclusively exclude” DuBoise as a perpetrator upon reviewing DNA evidence, Hall said.
Thursday morning, the court moved to reduce DuBoise’s sentence to the exact amount of time he has already spent behind bars. He walked free that afternoon.
The Conviction Review Unit will continue to work with the court to finish exonerating DuBoise, Hall said in a phone interview with Oxygen.com. He may be eligible for substantial compensation: in February, the state of Florida approved a $2 million compensation claim for a man who’d been in prison since 1976 for a murder he didn’t commit, CBS News reports.
For now, though, DuBoise is just celebrating his newfound freedom.
“The first thing he wanted to do was hug his mom. ... You’ve never seen someone so happy to be cooking in the Florida heat,” Kamm said, recalling DuBoise's first moments in the blazing sunlight as a free man.
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