After 19-year-old Barbara Grams was raped and murdered in August 1983 while walking home from her job at a Florida shopping mall, cops quickly rounded up a local man named Robert DuBoise.
DuBoise, who was 18 at the time, was fingered to detectives by a local resident who told them that he “caused problems” in the Tampa neighborhood. Under questioning by law enforcement, DuBoise agreed to let investigators take a dental mold to compare to a bite mark found on Grams’ cheek.
A forensic odontologist declared it a match, and, based on the bite mark evidence—a field which has since been debunked as junk science—as well as testimony from a jailhouse informant in exchange for their own plea deal, DuBoise was convicted and sentenced to death.
DuBoise swore he was innocent, to no avail. He spent 37 years behind bars before DNA evidence cleared him of any involvement. In August 2020, he walked out of prison, a free man. But that meant Grams’ real killer, or killers, were still out there.
On Thursday afternoon, nearly 39 years to the day since Grams was killed, Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, who had been hastily suspended that morning by Gov. Ron DeSantis over a political spat, announced that detectives had, at long last, zeroed in on the actual suspects.
“For 37 years, Barbara Grams’ family had false closure based on a false story,” Warren said at a news conference.
Warren identified Grams’ actual alleged killers as Abron Scott, 57, and Amos Robinson, 59, who he said “will finally face a reckoning for what they’ve done.” The two, who are both serving life sentences for another murder in Pinellas County, were hit on Thursday with first-degree murder charges in Grams’ death.
They were connected to Grams’ killing after further analysis of DNA evidence stored in a rape kit from 1983, according to Warren, saying that the new testing provided fresh clues that conclusively prove Scott and Robinson’s guilt.
DuBoise’s lawyer, Innocence Project senior staff attorney Susan Friedman, told The Daily Beast on Friday in an email, “Mr. DuBoise’s conviction demonstrates how tunnel vision, faulty forensics and jailhouse informants all contribute to wrongful convictions,” Friedman said in an email. “The police made egregious errors in their investigation that led to Mr. DuBoise’s wrongful conviction and his continued incarceration for nearly four decades. Their errors also left the community less safe. A root cause analysis and sentinel event review is needed to understand why the system failed and how it can be fixed. We are grateful to the State Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit for their partnership in this case, and we continue to be in awe of Mr. DuBoise’s strength, courage and determination as he moves forward.”
Last year, DuBoise filed a lawsuit against the City of Tampa, the detectives he says railroaded him, and the forensic odontologist whose analysis landed him on death row.
At Thursday’s news conference, Warren also announced charges against Scott and Robinson for a second murder, also thanks to modern DNA testing and analysis. In that case, which occurred five weeks before Grams was found dead, 41-year-old freelance photographer Linda Lansen was discovered shot to death at the end of a highway in the Town n’ Country area of Hillsborough.
Together, Warren said the two “carried out a sinister spree of rape and murder in Tampa Bay in the summer and fall of 1983,” noting Scott and Robinson’s current convictions are for kidnapping, beating, and killing a man, 33-year-old shoe salesman Carlos Orellana, with his own car.
Warren said investigators now believe both men were also responsible for the October 1983 death of a woman named Herminia Castro, who was found shot to death in the trunk of a car in East Tampa that had been set on fire. In 1991, Robinson and another man were charged over Castro’s murder, but the case was later dropped due to a lack of evidence. In prison, Robinson has killed two of his fellow inmates, according to Warren.
At the end of Warren’s press conference, Linda Sheffield, Linda Lansen’s namesake and now-grown niece, spoke to the press. Lansen’s daughter chose not to appear but provided a statement of appreciation for Warren to read.
“For me, the loss of my beautiful mother will remain a waking nightmare,” the statement said, noting the hard work by investigators that led to this moment. “But I thank them for at least bringing me some closure.”
In her own remarks, Sheffield called Lansen a “very strong, determined, warm and wonderful woman” who taught her to count to 100 and put on makeup.
“It was the beginning of my life,” an emotional Sheffield said. “She was everything.”
Scott and Robinson not only “robbed” her of her aunt, she said, “but they robbed a 7-year-old little girl of her mother… She kept asking, ‘Is that my mother’s car? Is that my mother’s car? Where’s my mom?’ Because she couldn’t wrap her brain around what had actually happened.”
Words can’t describe what the past four decades have been like for Lansen’s friends and loved ones, said Sheffield.
“Thirty-nine years later, the shock is no longer there,” she said. “But the void stays, and the pain stays, and the crying stays. It doesn’t go away.”
On Thursday, Warren said wrongful convictions serve no one’s interests, least of all victims and their families.
“As we see today, in the rare case where an innocent person is convicted, the actual criminal got away with a crime… That stops now,” he said. “It's extremely rare for exonerations to be followed by the prosecution of the actual perpetrators. But… [w]e can now prosecute these men, and we will.”