The 2020 NFL season has certainly been a special one for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With their brand-new quarterback (some guy named Tom Brady) leading the way, the Bucs made the playoffs for the first time in 13 seasons, won their first postseason game in 18 seasons, and are now set to be the first team in NFL history to host a Super Bowl in their home stadium. However, the Buccaneers’ rebirth is nothing compared to the rebirth that Robert DuBoise is currently experiencing.
Now, the name Robert DuBoise probably doesn’t sound too familiar to most people. And why would it? I mean, how many names of former death row inmates wrongfully incarcerated for 37 years for a murder they didn’t commit does the average person really know? Yeah, I know it’s a mouthful but that’s exactly who Robert DuBoise is.
Or maybe the more appropriate way to say that is that’s who he was as I’m betting that’s not how he’d want to be described. Is it accurate? Tragically, yes. But perhaps the better way to describe him is as a man who is surprisingly upbeat for someone who was wronged by the system and is doing his absolute best to put his life back together. And the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing a part in that.
Robert DuBoise was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1983
On the night of August 18, 1983, just ahead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ eighth NFL season, a 19-year-old woman named Barbara Grams was beaten, raped, and murdered outside a shopping mall in Tampa, where she worked at a restaurant.
Robert DuBoise, who was 18 years old at the time, became a suspect in the case as he regularly spent time at a nearby grocery store, although there were never any witnesses that could say he was there on the night this horrific crime was committed.
The main focus during the investigation of Grams’ murder was a wound on her left cheek, which was presumed to be a bite mark. DuBoise and a few other men were rounded up and molds of their teeth were taken. Forensics concluded that it was DuBoise who’d bitten her, even though there was no other physical evidence connecting him to the crime.
No fingerprints. No hair. Just the bite and the testimony of a jailhouse informant who claimed DuBoise had incriminated himself while in custody awaiting trial, an informant, by the way, who had his life sentence knocked down to five years for providing that information.
DuBoise’s attorneys figured they had an easy acquittal coming but a jury found him guilty of first-degree murder and attempted sexual battery. A life sentence was recommended but the judge overruled the jury and sentenced Robert DuBoise to death row, a sentence that was reduced to life in prison in 1988.
His conviction was overturned in August 2020
Robert DuBoise obviously had no choice but to accept what had happened to him and simply tried to make the best of a horrible and unfortunate situation. But he also didn’t stop trying to get his story out there, which is why he wrote letters to outlets such as 60 Minutes and Dateline, which didn’t do much good.
To pass the time, he read the Bible and attended church group meetings and also learned how to do plumbing and electrical work, which got a little awkward when he was once asked to do work on an electric chair that at one time was supposed to be the thing that killed him. Outside the Bible, DuBoise would also read other books, one of which was The Innocent Man by John Grisham, which is where he discovered the Innocence Project, whose goal is to exonerate those wrongly convicted of a crime through DNA testing.
Robert DuBoise wrote a letter to the nonprofit and work on his case began in 2018. The new attorney working the case, Susan Friedman, focused on the fact that bite-mark evidence had been completely discredited by scientists in the years since DuBoise’s and worked for two years on the case, which wasn’t easy given the fact she was told that all the initial evidence had been destroyed, which apparently was not the case.
She was able to get a forensic odontologist to determine that the mark on Barbara Grams’ face wasn’t even a bite mark. She then discovered that the medical examiner still had the rape kit slides from the autopsy. DNA testing was run and definitely proved that Robert DuBoise was innocent. On a Monday morning in late August 2020, Friedman called to tell him the news and he was released that Thursday after having spent close to 37 years behind bars.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are helping Robert DuBoise put his life back together
Upon his release, Robert DuBoise simply tried to put his life back together. He found some work doing odd jobs using the skills he learned while in prison but it obviously hasn’t been easy. And that’s where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are trying to help.
In early November, Buccaneers offensive lineman Ali Marpet came across DuBoise’s story and shared it with the team’s social justice player committee, which includes a number of Bucs players that dedicate time to helping those in need in the Tampa community. The group had never done anything as it pertains to someone who’d been wrongfully convicted but Marpet believed it fit right in with what the committee stands for.
He began sharing the story with numerous teammates and started raising money in order to help DuBoise out. But that wasn’t the end of it. A Zoom call was arranged for November 18 in which Marpet and a number of other Tampa Bay Buccaneers just sat and listened to his story. They were in awe of how upbeat he was about his plight and couldn’t believe he’d once shared a cell block with Ted Bundy, which was an actual thing.
Five days later, Robert DuBoise was a personal guest of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for their Monday Night Football matchup with the LA Rams. The now-56-year-old DuBoise was initially seated by the tunnel where the Bucs run out onto the field and he conversed with a few of the players he’d spoken to on the Zoom call, which was an exciting moment for all parties involved as the players want nothing more than to see him get back on his feet.
That’s why, according to NFL.com, the Buccaneers have already given him $25,000, which has helped him buy all the tools he needs to work those odd jobs, and will continue to support him as he goes through the very restrictive process of attempting to be compensated by the state of Florida for his wrongful conviction. But as he did for 37 years and continues to do today, DuBoise remains positive that everything will work out for the best.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will try to win a big football game this Sunday but Robert DuBoise has already won something so much more valuable: his freedom.
For more information on the incredible story of Robert DuBoise and how you can help, check out the Innocence Project website.