State attorney sought justice in nearly 40-year-old case before governor suspended him

·4 min read

Something very important was supposed to take place last Thursday, the day Gov. Ron DeSantis tried to murder democracy.

Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren was set to announce a huge victory for crime-hating, peace-loving seekers of justice everywhere. Instead, Warren was escorted from his office by a sheriff's deputy and replaced as the chief prosecutor in the 13th Judicial Circuit, even though he'd been elected twice.

That bears repeating. The people of the 13th Judicial Circuit twice voted Andrew Warren into office. DeSantis decided to order him out.

"This political stunt should scare anyone who believes in our democracy," Warren said during a Friday morning conference call with opinion page editors from across the state. "It's a flagrant abuse of power. It's a flagrant violation of the most fundamental American value that people elect their leaders. That's how democracy works."

Back to Warren's huge victory. The State Attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit (we do not have one in Brevard County) exonerated a man, Robert DuBoise, in 2020. DuBoise was released from prison after 37 years. He had been wrongfully convicted of rape and murder.

That exoneration led to a multi-year investigation that has now led to indictments against the two men who actually killed the victim. Warren's office cleared the wrongfully convicted guy and identified the real rapists and killers.

But that's not all. They also uncovered that these same two men now being charged also committed another rape and murder that had gone unsolved for nearly 40 years.

If that's not absolute proof that conviction integrity units are needed in every prosecutor's office, then I don't know what is.

But instead of being lauded for getting rapists and killers off the streets and for releasing an innocent man, Warren was unceremoniously suspended by a governor who has now successfully overthrown the results of a fair and free election.

The timing was no accident.

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"It's really unfortunate that the governor's political sideshow potentially took crime as a casualty," Warren said, adding that the governor has jeopardized their ability to prosecute two people for a 39-year-old cold case therefore denying peace to the families of the victims. "This is just unconscionable."

DeSantis basically fired Warren from office for what he said was Warren’s disregard for his duty to enforce state laws. DeSantis pointed to two letters that Warren signed along with prosecutors across the country who vowed not to prosecute people who "seek, provide, or support abortions" and condemned efforts to restrict gender-affirming health care.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses attendees during the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit, Friday, July 22, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses attendees during the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit, Friday, July 22, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)

But here's the kicker. Warren has not been faced with any cases that fall into those two categories. There is no law on the books pertaining to gender-affirming health care in Florida and the 15-week abortion ban is being challenged in court after a state judge ruled it unconstitutional.

"This should terrify everyone," Warren said. "Let's be clear. This is not about what I've done. This is about what I've said. Those letters were value statements voicing my opposition to laws that violate people's constitutional rights. One of those laws — the 15-week abortion ban — has been held unconstitutional by the first court that looked at it.

"The second law, regarding transgender of Floridians is not even a law. This is the 'Orwellian thought police.' I'm being punished for not enforcing a law that doesn't exist."

Robert Duboise was  behind bars for 37 years after being wrongfully convicted of a rape and murder of a young Hillsborough County woman .
Robert Duboise was behind bars for 37 years after being wrongfully convicted of a rape and murder of a young Hillsborough County woman .

Warren added that he would evaluate cases brought to his office on their merit.

DeSantis appointed Susan Lopez, a county judge — not even a circuit judge — to replace Warren. It should come as no surprise that DeSantis appointed Lopez to the bench in 2021. Meaning she has never won any election.

And if you're wondering, yes, she backed Warren's Republican opponent in 2016.

John A. Torres is engagement editor of Florida Today. Contact Torres at 321-242-3684 or at jtorres@floridatoday.com. You can follow him on Twitter @johnalbertorres or on Facebook at facebook.com/FTjohntorres.

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This article originally appeared on Florida Today: John Torres: State attorney sought justice before DeSantis suspension