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'Overwhelming sense of relief' | Man freed from prison after 37 years, cleared of murder he didn't commit

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said there is "not one shred of evidence" that Robert DuBoise is guilty of murder and attempted rape.

TAMPA, Fla. — A Tampa man wrongfully convicted of murder was let out of prison Thursday after a judge granted his release earlier that morning.

In a hearing Thursday morning, Judge Christopher Nash granted the motion to release Robert DuBoise from prison, where he had been held for nearly 37 years. On Wednesday, State Attorney Andrew Warren announced DuBoise was cleared of his conviction based on DNA evidence. 

Another hearing will take place on Monday, Sept. 14 to further discuss fully exonerating DuBoise of his conviction.

"It's an overwhelming sense of relief," DuBoise said Thursday afternoon outside the Hardee Correctional Institution. "I'm nervous, but I'm excited too."

Greeting him for the first time as a free man in more than three decades was DuBoise's mother and sister.

"I prayed all the time...and God is good," his mother Myra said.

His sister Harriet said she's happy that "this 37-year-old nightmare is over." She also said it feels good knowing she can hug her brother without being told by prison staff to keep her hands to herself.

"He's going to get hugs forever and ever and ever," she said.

DuBoise has never used a smartphone or a computer. He's never been to a Walmart or a Home Depot. But, he said he doesn't have room in his life for bitterness over the time spent behind bars.

"If you keep hatred and bitterness in your heart it just steals your joy from everything else," he said.

DuBoise said much of the prison staff and other inmates were "very happy" when the announcement came down that DNA evidence cleared him of the murder. 

"They started yelling and clapping yesterday," he said. "I said it's a beautiful day."

RELATED: Man serving life for murder cleared after 37 years thanks to DNA analysis, state attorney says

DuBoise was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted sexual battery in the 1983 killing of 19-year-old Barbara Grams. Grams was found by Tampa police, beaten to death behind a dental practice. DuBoise was also 19 at the time of the murder.

In the announcement Wednesday, State Attorney Andrew Warren that there is "not one shred of evidence" that DuBoise is guilty of the crime.

"For 37 years we've had an innocent man locked up for a crime he did not commit but the real perpetrator was never held accountable for this horrific murder," Warren said. "I apologize to Mr. DuBoise on behalf of the entire criminal justice system."

The State Attorney's Office said DNA analysis was not as advanced in 1983, so rape kit samples taken from Grams were stored away. And, the office said the evidence used at DuBoise's trial was presumed to have been destroyed in 1990.

In August 2020, however, Conviction Review Supervising Attorney Teresa Hall found rape kit samples that were not used during the trial at the Medical Examiner's Office. Sent for DNA testing, the results showed that "DuBoise's DNA was not present in the samples."

The results did identify two other men, one considered a "major contributor" and the other a "minor contributor." Warren said the "major contributor" is now a person of interest in the now-opened investigation, but he is not able to provide further details on that person.

Credit: State Attorney's Office

Warren said two key pieces led to DuBoise's murder conviction: bite mark evidence on Gram's body and jail informant testimony. However, Warren said the CRU team determined there was "clear and convincing evidence" to reject both of those elements trying DuBoise to the crime.

"We continue to investigate who murdered Barbara Grams in 1983," Warren said.

Credit: State Attorney's Office

Warren said he also apologizes to the family of Grams "for the injustice they suffered."

On Wednesday, the state attorney's office filed the motion to get DuBoise released immediately.

"We plan to work with the Innocence Project to have Mr. DuBoise fully exonerated and officially reverse his conviction," Warren said.

The Conviction Review Unit was set up by Warren to investigate and remedy wrongful convictions. The goal, the office said, "is to ensure that innocent citizens are not punished for crimes they did not commit while actual perpetrators remain free."

The CRU has a team of attorneys, investigators and support staff that review claims alongside and independent review panel of legal experts outside the State Attorney's Office. If the CRU staff identify a wrongful conviction, the State Attorney's Office works to remedy the conviction.

Back in May, the CRU launched a new website to gather tips, called Innocence Files Tampa. Warren said then that he hopes people watching the Netflix series "The Innocent Files" will want to come forward with possible information on local cases.

The website is a collaboration between the office and the Innocence Project

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