Tampa Man Released from Prison After 31 Years of Wrongful Conviction

September 13, 2021 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

The West Florida News recently covered a story on a Tampa man who has been given a second chance of freedom after serving over 30 years in jail. Tony G. Hopps is a 56-year-old man who was arrested 31 years ago for armed theft in South Tampa at the Tahitian Inn. After being convicted for a crime he did not commit, he spent the next three decades behind bars. Tampa prosecutors recently reviewed the case and realized they could not stand by and let this conviction go on for any longer.

What Was the Crime?

The robbery happened on January 25th, 1990. Ruby and Dunbar Dyches were the two victims in the case, and who were staying at the Tahitian Inn at the time of the crime. The pair heard knocking on their door after returning from a shopping trip. They were surprised to find a man pointing a gun at them, demanding money. When Dunbar Dyches stepped outside toward the man with the gun, he was hit by another perpetrator. The gunman took the opportunity to enter the hotel room and approached Ruby Dyches. The suspect grabbed her handbag and fled the hotel room. 

There were witnesses from the hotel pool area who saw the two suspects run off and get into a car, which was later found abandoned and marked as stolen. The police found Ruby’s stolen items the following day in a different stolen vehicle. 

The description the Dyches provided of the robber was that it was a Black man with a mustache, who was well built and was wearing camouflage pants and a hat. After the stolen belongings were found, the police sent a group of photos of potential suspects to the Dyches. A picture of Hopps was contained within the array of pictures sent to the couple. Both Ruby and Dunbar identified Hopps as the gunman who had been at their door. 

One of Hopps’ neighbors stated that he had seen Hopps near his home 10 minutes after the Tahitian Inn robbery had taken place. Additionally, Hopps had two police officers that were meant to help present his alibi. However, Hopps had a list of prior convictions. He had already gone to prison 6 times for crimes including burglary and aggravated assault. After going to court, Hopps was found guilty of robbery and was sentenced to life in prison. 

It wasn’t until May of 2020 that Hopps submitted a petition to the conviction review unit. This unit was created in 2018 by Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren. The goal of this unit was to root out wrongful convictions in Hillsborough County. According to the Tampa Bay Times, there was no valid evidence that suggested that Hopps was the one behind the crime. There is also substantial evidence to prove that he did not do it. 

Hopps’ life sentence conviction was solely based on the victims’ viewing of photos to identify the person behind the robbery. The photo array was then pinned to Hopps, who was charged and convicted. However now the Hillsborough State Attorney’s review unit found issues with the method of how the photos were shown to the victims. There have also been new witnesses to strengthen Hopps’ alibi. 

The investigation indicated that there were several issues with the way the photos had been presented to the Dyches. For one, the photos were sent in the mail. This gave the couple time to discuss the images amongst each other. It was also noted that the description they originally gave was of a man with a muscular build, whereas Hopps was thin. The description was of a man with a mustache, and Hopps had a beard. 

After the conclusion of the investigation, a review panel agreed that the conviction could not stand. If a photo array had been administered in that same manner in court today, it would be suppressed. Now that Hopps has been released after such a long period of time, what he is most likely feeling is overwhelming relief. The conviction and sentence were overturned, and Hopps’ exoneration included the review unit’s summary of the investigation. Someone from the Innocence Project of Florida–a non-profit to help innocent prisoners obtain their freedom and rebuild their lives–reported that Hopps will stay with family and Tampa now that he has finally been released. This is the second time the conviction review unit has successfully overturned a life sentence. If you would like to read more about the dangers of eyewitness misidentification, you can do so here.

Furthermore, if you would like to read about the case of Dustin Duty, a man who was wrongfully convicted in Duval County and served seven years, click here.

What does this mean for other Florida inmates potentially in the same situation? 

Well, hopefully the conviction review unit is a continuing force. Checking if past sentences were accurately closed is a part of the job that should happen more frequently. If there is something wrong with an old conviction, then it is important that it is corrected. It is imperative to our democracy to double check the work that’s already been done. If there are more cases like the case of Hopps, then it should be a priority to make sure they are fixed before anyone is in jail any longer than they need to be. 

Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney 

Being accused of a crime is an extremely stressful situation. With the combination of court time, fees, lost time at work, creating stress on family life, and the stigma of being charged as a criminal, this is a life altering scenario. If you are convicted, you may endure a significant amount of time in prison. In the instance of Hopps, he spent 31 years locked up for a crime he did not even commit. If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, it is of utmost importance to get in contact with an experienced Tallahassee Criminal Defense Attorney. Having an experienced, knowledgeable attorney on your side can make the difference between receiving jail time or walking away with a clean slate. With Don Pumphrey and his team, you are being provided with the help of a team who is ready to defend your rights and fight in your corner. Call (850) 681-7777 today for a free consultation regarding your case.


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