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Exonerated Florida man sues Tampa, retired police officials after spending 37 years in prison

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A Florida man, who was exonerated of a wrongful conviction and death sentence last year thanks to DNA evidence, is now suing the city of Tampa, the former Tampa police officials, and the forensic dentist who wrongfully sent him to prison nearly four decades ago.

Robert DuBoise was 18 years old at the time of his conviction for the rape and murder of 19-year-old Barbara Grams in Tampa, Florida. In August of 2020 at age 56, DuBoise emerged from prison as a free man due to the results of previously untested DNA evidence from a rape kit.

Now, nearly forty years after his wrongful imprisonment, DuBoise has filed a lawsuit against the officials who robbed him of his freedom.

DuBoise’s lawsuit names as defendants retired Tampa police Detectives Phillip Saladino and K.E. Burke, former Sgt. R.H. Price, and the estate of the late Detective John Counsman, along with the city itself, and Dr. Richard Souviron, a forensic dentist who testified in DuBoise’s 1985 trial, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

(Source: Fox 13)

“The only physical evidence implicating Mr DuBoise was fabricated ‘bitemark’ evidence that supposedly matched Mr. DuBoise to an injury on the victim’s body. In fact, the victim’s injury was not a human bitemark at all,” Daniel Marshall, an attorney for the Human Rights Defense Center who fought for DuBoise’s freedom, wrote in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit quotes a complaint that alleges the expert odontologist on the exonerated man’s case, Souviron, said at a conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police before the trial, “If you tell me that is the guy that did it, I will go into court and say that is the guy that did it.”

Souviron saw fame earlier in his career when he identified Ted Bundy’s teeth as a match to a bite mark on one of Bundy’s victims in a murder trial.

The testimony that eventually sent DuBoise away relied on a beeswax mold of his mouth, which even in the 1980s, was not considered a credible method of evidence.

Souviron reviewed the alleged bitemark evidence and told investigators that they were looking for a person with a missing front tooth or a gap between the upper front teeth, which DuBoise did not have, the lawsuit states.

The suit also alleges that detectives conspired with a jailhouse informant, Claude Butler, who alleged the innocent man confessed to him.

As DuBoise sets out to rebuild his life with the disadvantage of nearly 40 years lost, he is being denied just compensation by the state of Florida.

The recently freed man would have qualified for more than $1.8 million in compensation, but he won’t see a dime due to a provision known as the “clean hands bar,” Fox 13 reported.

The provision disqualifies exonerees with a prior, separate, unrelated criminal record from receiving compensation from the state.

“He had these really minor crimes when he was a teenager, that is banning him from getting any money from the state of Florida for the 37 years that the state locked him up, and Florida is the only state in the country with that kind of ban,” Michelle Feldman, state campaigns director for the Innocence Project, told Fox 13.

In recent developments, two pending bills in the Florida legislature would give DuBoise $1.85 million for his wrongful time served. A similar bill filed earlier this year did not reach a vote.

“Unfortunately, that claims bill does not appear to be moving at all,” said Marshall, “Given the lack of movement on the claims bill, we’re pursuing alternate avenues.”

The city of Tampa has not responded to requests for comment according to multiple reports.

The DNA test that exonerated DuBoise did match someone else, according to the Tampa Bay Times. That person’s identity remains under wraps, but officials have noted the match is now a person of interest in the murder.

Officer Souviron did express regret to the Tampa Bay Times over the unjust conviction of DuBoise last year.

“From a human point of view, of course, I feel terrible. I played a part in his conviction. There’s no question I feel terrible,” Souviron reflected.

Kay Apfel

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