TAMPA — Almost 40 years ago, the wrong man went to prison for the murder of Barbara Grams. On Thursday, Hillsborough prosecutors named two men they say were the real killers.
Abron Scott and Amos Earl Robinson, who are both serving life sentences in state prison for a Pinellas County murder, were each charged Thursday with first-degree murder in the death of Grams, who was raped and beaten one night in 1983 as she walked home from her job at a Tampa shopping mall.
They were also charged with a second murder — the cold case of Linda Toni Lansen, who was found shot to death by a Town N’ Country roadside about five weeks before Grams was killed.
“There are no words to describe what it’s like to go through 39 years of grief and not knowing what happened,” Linda Sheffield, Lansen’s niece, said at a news conference in which indictments against the men were announced.
Indictments against the pair came almost exactly two years after new DNA tests helped exonerate Robert DuBoise, who spent 37 years in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of killing Grams.
“They are still alive and they will finally face a reckoning for what they did,” said Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren, who Gov. Ron DeSantis had removed from office earlier in the day because of Warren’s previous statements on topics like abortion.
Scott, 57, is incarcerated at Okeechobee Correctional Institution. Robinson, who turns 59 on Friday, is held at Union Correctional Institution, near Raiford. It’s expected that both men will return to Hillsborough County jail in the coming weeks to await trial.
Lansen, 41, who worked as a freelance photographer, left her apartment the night of July 10, 1983, in the Woodland Terrace area and never returned. A jogger found her body the next day roughly 13 miles away in a ditch along Old Memorial Highway, west of Sheldon Road in Town N’ Country. She had been shot repeatedly.
Police found her car a day later. It was parked on a residential street near Manhattan Avenue and Interstate 275. Someone found her purse by a roadside in Clearwater.
“She taught me how to count to 100, she taught me how to put on makeup,” Sheffield, her niece, said at the news conference, later adding: “The void stays and the pain stays and the crying stays, it doesn’t go away.”
The killing was mentioned repeatedly that year in news stories documenting a string of murders that police insisted were unrelated. The killings all involved women who were attacked seemingly at random.
Barbara Grams was one of them.
Grams, 19, worked at a restaurant called The Hot Potato in a now-defunct shopping mall called Tampa Bay Center, which stood near what is now Raymond James Stadium. The night of Aug. 18, 1983, she left work and started a two-mile walk toward her home in Tampa Heights.
A gardener found her body the next morning in a yard behind a dentist office at 3911 N Boulevard. She’d been raped and beaten to death.
Scott and Robinson were both convicted of robbing, kidnapping and murdering Carlos Orellana.
He was a 33-year-old office manager and part-time shoe salesman who’d come to the U.S. in the early 1970s from his native Honduras.
On Oct. 21, 1983, he was getting into his car outside a bar on W Kennedy Boulevard when the two men attacked him.
Court records and news accounts tell of the pair beating Orellana until he was unconscious, then pushing him into the car’s back seat. They drove to what was then a sparsely-developed area off Gim Gong Road, just north of Tampa Road, in Oldsmar.
As Scott pulled him from the car, Orellana began to fight. Robinson tried to run him over, but stopped to avoid hitting Scott.
As the fight continued, Scott beat and choked Orellana. He then, according to court records, got back in the car and ran him over.
The car got stuck in sand while Orellana’s body was pinned underneath. Two unidentified men in trucks helped them dislodge the car. Afterward they hid Orellana’s body in the woods and drove off. Road workers found his body five days later.
Both men were convicted in separate trials and sentenced to death. Both sentences were later reduced to life in prison.
In an ironic twist, state prison records indicate that Robinson and Scott were on death row at the same time as DuBoise. His sentence, too, would be reduced to life. But he still served decades before being exonerated.
State records reflect that Robinson committed two other murders - one in 1998, the other in 2004 - while he was confined to prisons in Florida’s panhandle. Details about those cases were not immediately available Thursday.