Senate approves $1.85M payment to man wrongly imprisoned for 37 years
Robert DuBoise leaves the Hardee County Correctional Institute after 37 years in prison. Image via AP.

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It amounts to $50,000 for each year the state kept him behind bars.

Tampa man Robert Earl DuBoise, who was wrongly incarcerated for 37 years, including three years on death row, is closer than ever to receiving compensation for the time taken from him.

On Wednesday, the Florida Senate voted 39-1 for a measure (SB 62) that would authorize a $1.85 million state payment to DuBoise, who was convicted of a 1983 rape and murder that DNA evidence cleared him of less than three years ago.

Since then, DuBoise has worked to make the best of the time he has left. He dreams of starting his own business. But with little money on which to get by and a nearly 40-year absence from society, it’s been difficult.

The compensation to DuBoise amounts to $50,000 for each year the state incarcerated him, the maximum allowable under current statutes.

DuBoise would be eligible to receive the money outright if not for a proviso unique to Florida called the “clean hands” rule, which denies payment to exonerees with more than one nonviolent felony. Legislation to delete that condition from state statutes received unanimous approval in the Senate last month and awaits a vote in the House.

But the rule stands for now and obstructs DuBoise, who had prior convictions for burglary and grand theft unrelated to the murder, from recompense. His only recourse is what is known as a claims bill, a measure intended to compensate a person for injuries or losses caused by the negligence or error of a public officer or agency.

Claims bills arise when appropriate damages exceed what is allowable under Florida’s sovereign immunity statutes, which shield government entities from costly lawsuits, or are blocked under the clean hands rule.

Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle — including Boca Raton Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky, former Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes and former Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned — took up DuBoise’s cause in the 2021 and 2022 Legislative Sessions.

Each of those efforts ended with the bill dying in committee.

“This is an opportunity for us to do what we’re supposed to do through the claims bill process, and that’s show legislative grace,” said Fort Pierce Republican Sen. Erin Grall, who is sponsoring the measure this year.

After two years of failed attempts by other Senators, Erin Grall successfully carried a bill clearing payment to Robert DuBoise through the chamber. Image via Colin Hackley for Florida Politics.

Republican Rep. Wyman Dugan of Jacksonville is carrying its identical House companion (HB 6005), which cleared its third and final committee stop Wednesday.

The only “no” vote from the Senate floor Wednesday came from Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry. Perry explained during the bill’s last committee stop April 13 that while he sympathizes with DuBoise and agrees his case has merit, he believes the claims bill process circumvents rather than adheres to state law.

DuBoise was initially sentenced to death in March 1985 for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Barbara Grams. Prosecutors used two pieces of evidence to convict him that are today considered leading causes of wrongful convictions: an apparent bite mark, which a forensic odontologist later concluded not to be a bite mark; and since-discredited testimony from a jailhouse informant.

The Florida Supreme Court vacated his death sentence in 1988 and re-sentenced him to life. By that time, DuBoise had spent three years on death row within earshot of some of Florida’s most notorious killers.

DuBoise on death row in 1985. (Photo via Florida Department of Corrections)

In 2006, he filed a motion for post-conviction DNA testing. By 2018, the Innocence Project and the Conviction Review Unit (CRU) at Warren’s office began to reinvestigate the case. A lawyer at the CRU uncovered unused, preserved rape kit samples at the Hillsborough Medical Examiner’s Office, the DNA from which exonerated DuBoise in late 2020.

Last August, Warren announced the DNA had been linked to prisoners named Amos Robinson and Abron Scott, whom he described as “serial killers.” The announcement came just hours after Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Warren for saying he would not enforce restrictive Florida laws on abortion and gender-affirming surgery.

Since his release, DuBoise has sought reparation for his lost years. He sued the Tampa Police Department in October 2021. The outcome of that case is still pending.

In the meantime, DuBoise is trying to get his life back on track, doing handiwork and odd jobs. But many simple tasks for most people, like renting an apartment, are tall orders for a man with such an enormous gap in his history.

“They don’t understand how I wasn’t on the radar for 37 years,” he told Florida Politics. “It’s like I don’t even exist.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • Can't Make This Stuff Up

    April 20, 2023 at 2:41 am

    This is one of the real reasons DeSantis unconstitutionally removed DA Warren. He and his corrupt Sheriff lapdogs don’t want their many and massive errors exposed. It is crazy that after 37 years in prison for crimes he did not commit the best the State of Florida can do for immorally and illegally taking all of the productive years of this man’s life is $1,850,000. After what the people of Florida have done to this man he really has no choice but to take the money, but it is really just one more injury from Florida to Mr. DuDoise

Comments are closed.


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