After 37 years behind bars, a Florida man has been cleared of rape and murder that DNA evidence proved he did not commit after a long-ago trial that relied on a sketchy jailhouse informant and faulty bite mark analysis.
Robert DuBoise was released from prison last month.
A hearing before Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Christopher Nash on Monday local time resulted in an order wiping the previous convictions and life sentence, and removing DuBoise from the state’s sex offender registry.
“This court has failed you for 37 years,” Nash said.
“Today, it has finally succeeded.”
DuBoise, 55, was convicted in the 1983 murder of 19-year-old Barbara Grams who was raped and beaten while walking home from a Tampa mall.
He was initially sentenced to death, then resentenced to life in prison.
Expert testimony at Monday’s hearing showed bite mark evidence on the victim’s left cheek used in his trial has now been found unreliable –police used beeswax to take an impression of DuBoise’s teeth – and that DNA showed conclusively he was eliminated as a suspect in the assault of Ms Grams.
The jailhouse informant’s testimony has also been discredited.
“It’s been 37 years,” said Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren.
“We’re righting this wrong today, finally.”
The exoneration came as a result of co-operation between prosecutors in Warren’s office and the Innocence Project, which works to free prisoners who have been wrongly convicted.
Susan Friedman, who represents DuBoise, said he consistently maintained his innocence even as he languished on death row initially and then often in solitary confinement on a journey through six Florida prisons.
In brief remarks during the hearing, DuBoise, who was only 18 at the time of the crime, said he hasn’t always trusted the judicial system “because I’ve had a lot of roadblocks thrown in my path”.
“There are really true-hearted people in these offices now,” added DuBoise, dressed in a suit and tie he just recently got.
“It’s been amazing. I’m just very grateful to all of you.”
The hearing came after DuBoise was released August 27 from the Hardee Correctional Instituition in central Florida, where he was reunited with his mother and sister.
He has since been living in a Tampa centre that provides housing for people wrongfully imprisoned and has said he must learn the ways of modern life, from shopping at a Walmart to using an iPhone.
Mr Warren, the chief prosecutor, said his office is undertaking a review with the Innocence Project of cases in the Tampa area in which convictions relied heavily on now-discredited bite mark evidence.
Forensic DNA analyst Nancy Wilson concluded two people were involved in the Grams assault, neither of them DuBoise. Given that, the killing of the teenager 37 years ago will return to the unsolved file.