Incident Date: August 18, 1983
Jurisdiction: 13th Judicial Circuit
Charge: Capital Murder and Attempted Sexual Battery
Conviction: Capital Murder and Attempted Sexual Battery
Sentence: Death, commuted to Life
Year of Conviction: 1985
Exonerated: September 14, 2020
Sentence Served: 37 Years
Real perpetrator found? Yes, positively identified by DNA
Contributing Causes: Faulty Forensic Science, and Jailhouse Informant Testimony
Compensation? Not yet
On September 14, 2020, Robert DuBoise became the 30th person exonerated from Florida’s death row.
On August 19, 1983, a young woman’s body was found behind a dental office in Tampa, Florida. Through observation and autopsy, authorities concluded the woman was raped and beaten to death. The Medical Examiner also identified what was thought to be a human bite-mark on the victim’s cheek. Dr. Richard Souviron, a forensic odontologist, advised detectives to obtain bite mark impressions from potential suspects.
When investigators began to identify suspects, they also came across a local resident who referred to Robert DuBoise as someone who “caused problems” at a hangout place in the area. When questioned, the then-18-year-old DuBoise fully cooperated with the officers. He was interrogated and taken to have a mold of his teeth made. Based on a comparison of the impression and mold, Dr. Souviron determined DuBoise was a match to the mark left on the body and he was arrested immediately.
Although DuBoise was the charged perpetrator, there was no other physical or circumstantial evidence connecting him to the attack. Prior to his conviction, he was transported to Hillsborough County Jail where a jailhouse informant interacted with him and later falsely testified DuBoise had confessed to the crime during his time there.
Although the jailhouse informant claimed to not have been given anything in exchange for his cooperation, he did receive a plea deal that reduced his potential life sentence to five years. Based on the junk science of bite mark evidence and the unreliable testimony of a jailhouse informant, DuBoise was convicted and sentenced to death. He was just 18 years old.
After three years on death row, the Florida Supreme Court reversed Robert DuBoise’s death sentence and substituted it with life plus fifteen years. DuBoise maintained his innocence throughout his time in prison. In August of 2006, DuBoise filed a motion for postconviction DNA testing. In a hearing two years later, the Court Clerk testified that all of the evidence admitted into his original trial was destroyed in 1990. As a result, the judge denied his request to test the other biological evidence and agreed on the State’s theory that excluding Robert from the evidence would still not prove his innocence.
In 2018, the Innocence Project began to review DuBoise’s case. The Thirteenth Judicial Circuit in Florida had recently launched its Conviction Review Unit (CRU) and planned to review cases of possible wrongful conviction from the jurisdiction. The Innocence Project urged the CRU to review the case based on concerns about the validity of forensic bite mark evidence and the heavy reliance on that evidence in this case. As part of the reinvestigation, Dr. Adam Freeman, a forensic odontologist, reviewed the bite mark and concluded the original "bite mark" evidence was not supported by modern science and the injury on the woman's cheek was not actually the result of a human bite.
In 2020, through continued investigation and digging from the lead of the CRU and DuBoise’s counsel at the Innocence Project, slides of DNA from the original autopsy were discovered in storage at the office of the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner. All original evidence was thought to have been destroyed, as was noted by the court at an earlier time Soon after this discovery, DNA testing on the remaining evidence revealed positive identification of male DNA from the perpetrator and excluded Robert DuBoise as a contributor.
Within weeks, through the cooperation of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, the Innocence Project, and the local assistance of the Innocence Project of Florida, DuBoise was released from prison August 27, 2020, into the arms of his mother, Myra, his sister, Harriett, and his attorney Susan Friedman. A few weeks later on September 14, 2020, the court vacated his wrongful convictions and the State dropped the charges against Robert DuBoise in a virtual hearing, exonerating him after 37 years incarcerated for a crime he did not commit.
The exculpatory DNA evidence freed Robert DuBoise of his wrongful conviction and made him Florida’s 30th person exonerated after being sentenced to death. Florida remains the only state to disqualify exonerees from compensation if they were formerly convicted of unrelated felony offenses. One violent felony or more than one nonviolent felony will disqualify a person from Florida’s Victims of Wrongful Incarceration Compensation Act which grants $50,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment by the State. His case is another example of the need to eliminate this Clean Hands Provision from Florida’s Compensation law and provide access to fair and appropriate compensation for all of Florida’s exonerees.
Left; Robert and his mom, left, and his sister, right, on the day he was freed. Right; Robert outside his home in Tampa, Florida, in October 2020.