Man Awarded $13.2M in wrongful FBI hair conviction case in Washington D.C.

courtroomBy Steve Neavling

Santa A. Tribble spent 28 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Tribble was convicted of killing a Washington D.C. taxi driver in 1978 because of a trial in which the prosecution exaggerated the reliability of FBI forensic hair matches.

On Friday, a D.C. Superior Court judge ordered the government to pay $13.2 million to Tribble for the wrongful conviction.

Tribble is the third Washington D.C. man to be awarded damages over the past year after prosecutors used exaggerated claims about the reliability of the hair matches, the Washington Post reports. 

Subsequent DNA testing showed that Tribble, who is now 55, “could not have contributed hairs” found in a stocking that the attacker reportedly used as a mask, the Post wrote.

A federal review last year revealed that FBI examiners often overstated the reliability of hair testing in testimony against criminal defendants for at least two decades before 2000.

The Justice Department on Wednesday said it will review cases involving similar “testimonial overstatement.”

Tribble’s “journey of injustice subjected [him] to all the horror, degradation, and threats to personal security and privacy inherent in prison life, each heightened by his youth, actual innocence, and life sentence,” D.C. Superior Court Judge John M. Mott wrote in a 48-page opinion Friday.

“Mr. Tribble’s ordeal did not merely deprive him of his liberty in a constitutional sense — it ruined his life, leaving him broken in body and spirit and, quite literally, dying,” Mott wrote.

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