OPINION: Restrict Florida’s death penalty to the worst offenders

The recent exoneration of an innocent Tampa man convicted and sentenced to death in 1983 highlights issues with the broad application of the death penalty in Florida. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/Ryan McGrady

Robert DuBoise, a man wrongfully convicted for the 1983 murder of 19-year-old Barbara Grams, was exonerated from all charges Sept. 14, 2020, 32 years after being removed from death row in 1988. 

On Oct. 4, DuBoise sued the City of Tampa, a forensic odontologist, three detectives and a sergeant who he said violated his right to due process and a fair trial.

The overuse of the death penalty by courts does not protect citizens, and limiting death penalty sentences in Florida to the most extreme cases, such as premeditated murders, would better serve the falsely convicted and general public.

Tampa police arrested DuBoise in 1983 after they used beeswax imprints to match his teeth marks to the bite marks on Grams’ face. After DuBoise was found guilty of rape and murder in 1985, Judge Harry Lee Coe overrode the jury’s recommended life sentence and sentenced DuBoise to death.

The Supreme Court of Florida overturned Coe’s death penalty sentence in 1988 after noting the judge overstepped his ability to override the jury’s recommendation.

In a complaint filed to the U.S. District Court, DuBoise accused the defendants of fabricating evidence and pushing a false narrative about his case. Coe and the Supreme Court of Florida actually found DuBoise’s initial arrest to be illegal, because it relied on the beeswax impression taken after the arrest instead of before.

Like the other 30 death row inmates who have been found innocent in Florida, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, DuBoise’s case is a lucky one. Despite the years spent in prison, the former death row inmate now has a second chance at living as a free man.

When the Supreme Court of Florida overturned DuBoise’s death sentence, it referenced Tison v. Arizona, a Supreme Court case which recognized that “substantial participation in a violent felony under circumstances likely to result in the loss of innocent human life may justify the death penalty even absent an ‘intent to kill.’” 

Nearly all murders can be considered under this definition, but killing all murderers suggests an “eye for an eye” mentality that is outdated for any civilized society.

In instances when a criminal’s mere presence in society poses a safety risk to the general public, the death penalty should be enforced. Serial killers and terrorists in Florida, such as Ted Bundy and the perpetrator of the Orlando Pulse shooting, Omar Mateen, have carried out actions so immoral that a life sentence would ignore the impact of their murders.

Sentencing only criminals who show a clear intent to kill would limit the number of individuals, like DuBoise, who go through years of waiting on death row. Only premeditated murders would meet the requirement for the death penalty. Criminals who do not meet this requirement could still serve life in prison.

Despite the reversal of DuBoise’s death sentence, his case is a reminder that the death penalty can do irreparable damage to innocent individuals. By preventing the broad application of the death penalty, Florida can ensure only criminals without regard for human life will be subject to capital punishment.