WASHINGTON — A District of Columbia man who spent 28 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit was formally declared innocent by a Superior Court judge Friday, ending his long fight for exoneration.
Santae Tribble, 51, was convicted in the killing of a Washington taxi driver in 1978 after an FBI examiner said he microscopically matched Tribble's hair to a hair in a stocking cap found near the crime scene. The killer had been wearing a stocking cap. Tribble always maintained his innocence, and after he served his sentence, DNA tests on the hair this year excluded him as the source.
In a five-page order, Judge Laura Cordero granted Tribble's request for a certificate of innocence.
"In light of the parties' concession that new DNA evidence conclusively shows that the hair found in the stocking cap was not Mr. Tribble's, the Court finds by clear and convincing evidence that he did not commit the crimes he was convicted of at trial," Cordero wrote.
With the ruling, Tribble became the second D.C. man this year and the third since 2009 to be exonerated after serving a long prison term based on false hair matches by different examiners in the FBI Laboratory.
The Justice Department in July announced a nationwide review of cases handled by the FBI Laboratory's hair and fibers unit before 2000 — more than 21,000 cases in all — for instances in which improper lab reports or testimony may have contributed to a conviction. The lab began DNA testing of hair in 1996.
Under the D.C. Innocence Protection Act, the judge's ruling allows Tribble to obtain compensation from the government for his wrongful imprisonment.
Including Tribble, 301 people in the United States have been exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing since 1989.