Santae Tribble, Whose Wrongful Conviction Revealed FBI Forensic Hair Match Flaws, Dies at 59Breaking News
tags: racism, FBI, Law Enforcement, forensic evidence, wrongful conviction
Santae A. Tribble, whose wrongful conviction for a 1978 murder in Southeast Washington exposed decades of exaggerated claims about the reliability of FBI forensic hair matches, has died, his family said.
Tribble, 59, died June 24 in Washington after a lengthy illness attributed to his incarceration, said his son, Santae Tribble Jr.
Tribble was exonerated in 2012 after serving 28 years in prison for the killing of a D.C. taxi driver, who died when Tribble was 17.
DNA testing revealed that Tribble could not have contributed hairs found in what police said was a stocking mask worn by the attacker and left near the crime scene — even though at trial, the FBI declared the hairs microscopically matched Tribble’s, and prosecutors suggested the odds of a mismatch were “one . . . in 10 million.”
Tribble’s case and others uncovered by the D.C. Public Defender Service and featured in articles in The Washington Post helped trigger a federal review that in 2015 disclosed FBI examiners systematically overstated testimony in almost all trials in which they offered hair evidence against criminal defendants for two decades before 2000.
The findings led the Justice Department to offer new DNA testing in cases with errors and launch a partnership with independent scientists to raise forensic science standards. The findings also led to a review of other forensic disciplines for similar “testimonial overstatement,” although the Trump administration suspended the latter efforts.
Legal experts said Tribble’s case and other wrongful convictions identified by Sandra K. Levick, then the head of the public defender service’s special litigation division, forced authorities to abandon blame of rogue FBI examiners or bad apples for systemic human error repeated over decades.
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