After 37 years in prison, Robert DuBoise is finally able to walk free after a Florida judge voided his convictions in a 1983 murder case on Monday. The case involved the rape and murder of Barbara Grams, 19, who had been walking home from her job at Hot Potato (a restaurant in a defunct Tampa shopping mall) when she was attacked and beaten to death with a wood beam. Her body was found the next morning in a yard outside of a dentist office located near Hutto’s Corner, a grocery store that DuBoise frequented. When police asked if anyone had observed anything on the night of Grams’ death, a neighbor living near the dentist office reported hearing screams, a loud car radio, and squealing tires. Yet, no one saw the crime.
Despite the little information that they had, police compiled a list of nine suspects after speaking to people who knew Grams and/or lived near the crime scene. An individual pointed investigators to DuBoise solely because he was part of a group that hung out at Hutto’s Corner, but no one could place him at the store on the night of Grams’ murder. In fact, DuBoise’s mother even testified that her 18-year-old son was home that night.
Because the police had limited physical evidence to analyze, they focused the bulk of their investigation efforts on a circular wound that was found on Grams’ left cheek. Identified as a bite-mark, DuBoise and several other men were asked to take beeswax molds of their teeth. Dr. Richard Souviron, a forensic dentist, examined the models and eventually concluded that DuBoise’s teeth matched the marks on Grams’ cheek. Although neither the fingerprints at the crime scene nor the hairs on Grams’ body belonged to him, this bite-mark evidence was enough to arrest DuBoise.
While being held in the Hillsborough County jail, DuBoise was housed with another inmate that was awaiting trial for kidnapping and other charges. When a detective asked the inmate whether or not DuBoise had mentioned anything about the crime, he initially said no. However, he later claimed that DuBoise told him that he had raped Grams while two men beat her to death. Based on this inmate tip and the bite-mark evidence, DuBoise was found guilty of first-degree murder and attempted sexual battery in 1985. DuBoise was sentenced to death row, where he spent three years living near notorious criminals such as Willie Darden and Ted Bundy. In 1988, DuBoise’s sentence was reduced to life. He remained frustrated. “Nobody was trying to help me prove my innocence,” he said. “All they were doing was concentrating on a sentence instead of a conviction. I just didn’t understand it.”
In 2018, a lawyer for the Innocence Project named Susan Friedman offered to represent DuBoise. The Innocence Project is a New York-based organization that works to exonerate individuals that have been wrongfully incarcerated — convictions that are often made based on bite-mark evidence and jailhouse snitches. Friedman asked Adam Freeman, a former president of the American Board of Forensic Odontology, to review the bite-mark evidence. Freeman concluded that the bruising on Grams’ cheek was not caused by a bite — the individual markings were much too round to have been teeth. When asked about the case on Wednesday, Souviron lamented that, “today, I would never say what I said 37 years ago.” As it happens, bite-mark evidence is now regarded as unreliable and not permissible in court. “From a human point of view, of course, I feel terrible,” Souviron said. “I played a part in his conviction. There’s no question I feel terrible.”
This year, new tests were run on DNA samples from Grams’ rape kit. On August 20, the results revealed that the DNA did not belong to DuBoise but instead to two entirely different men. According to State Attorney Andrew Warren, one of those people is now a person of interest and the investigation remains ongoing. DuBoise, 55, was released on August 27 and now lives in a Tampa center that provides housing for people who have been exonerated after wrongful imprisonment.