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Man freed after 37 years in prison

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Innocence Project, 13th Circuit State Attorney cooperated in review

Robert DuBoise/Image: Casey Brooke Lawson/The Innocence ProjectOn August 27 Robert DuBoise walked out of prison, 37 years after he was wrongly arrested and later convicted of attempted sexual battery and murder, and after DNA evidence that was thought to have been lost excluded him and identified another assailant. On September 14, he appeared in court to formally have all charges dropped and his name cleared.

The investigation of the case also revealed errors in the bite mark testimony as well as irregularities in jailhouse snitch testimony used at DuBoise’s trial.

“I have been waiting for this day for nearly 37 years. I always knew that DNA would prove my innocence and hoped that the evidence could be found not just for me, but for my family as well. I hope that my story helps others to keep fighting to prove their innocence. I can’t get back the decades that I lost, but I’m going to try to rebuild my life with my family. It won’t be easy. I am just so grateful that my voice was heard and the truth is out there,” said DuBoise, 56, after his release.

“Today, Robert finally has some measure of justice. His strength, courage, and determination for nearly four decades has made this day possible,” said Susan Friedman, DuBoise’s Innocence Project attorney. “We knew that Robert’s conviction rested on two leading causes of wrongful convictions — jailhouse informant testimony and faulty forensics — and today, there is indisputable scientific evidence that proves his innocence. I am grateful to the Conviction Review Unit for their partnership on this case and look forward to collaborating on re-examining other bite mark cases to identify other wrongful convictions that resulted from the use of this highly unreliable evidence.”

On behalf of the justice system, 13th Circuit State Attorney Andrew Warren apologized to DuBoise and said the latest actions give him an overdue exoneration.

“Even after nearly 37 years, a prosecutor’s job is to seek justice, and that obligation to seek justice never ends,” Warren said. “Wrongful convictions deprive victims and their families of justice; they deserve the truth — not false closure based on a false story. Beyond that, wrongful convictions threaten public safety, putting an innocent person behind bars while the actual person who committed the crime goes free.”

DuBoise, who was 18 at the time, was arrested for the August 18, 1983, sexual assault and murder of a 19-year-old woman and the state alleged he had committed the crime with his brother and a friend, although the other two were never charged.

There were no eyewitnesses and the only physical evidence was an injury on the victim’s cheek that forensic experts said was a bite mark linked to DuBoise. Bite mark testimony has since been generally discredited and was wrongly relied on in at least 33 cases, according to the Innocence Project.

The state bolstered its case with testimony from a jailhouse snitch who was facing criminal charges that could have resulted in a life sentence. Instead, the snitch got a plea bargain with a five-year sentence after cooperating with investigators. After testifying at DuBoise’s trial, the inmate was sentenced to time served and immediately released.

Those arrangements were not revealed until the Innocence Project began looking into the case. It also found a forensic expert to review the bite mark evidence and he concluded the injury was not, in fact, a bite mark.

Although the jury recommended life imprisonment, the judge in the case sentenced DuBoise to death. The Florida Supreme Court overturned the death sentence three years later.

DuBoise had asked a judge in 2006 to have a DNA test on evidence from the case, but the court clerk testified all of the evidence had been destroyed in 1990 — five years after DuBoise’s trial. The judge denied the request to test other biological evidence, saying excluding DuBoise would be insufficient since the state’s theory was other people had also participated in the crime.

Earlier this year, slides from the victim’s autopsy were found in the medical examiner’s office and subjected to DNA testing. That showed DNA from two males were present — neither DuBoise — and one matched a person already in the criminal database and who had no connection with DuBoise.

The Innocence Project and the Conviction Review Unit worked cooperatively on the case since last year. The Innocence Project filed to vacate DuBoise’s conviction and sentence on September 10 and the following day Warren’s office agreed, asking the court to find DuBoise innocent and further saying if there were a retrial “there would be clear and convincing evidence that he is innocent of the charges against him.”

Because as a teenager DuBoise had charges related to possession of a stolen bike and entering a vacant unlocked house, he will not qualify for compensation under Florida’s wrongful conviction law. The Innocence Project is lobbying to change that law in Florida, which is the only state that denies compensation to exonerees who were convicted of unrelated crimes.

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