Flawed FBI Hair Analysis Leads to $13.2M Wrongful Conviction Lawsuit
A man who served more than 27 years in prison based on flawed FBI hair analysis has now been awarded $13.2 million in his wrongful conviction lawsuit.
The multimillion-dollar award is just the latest in the nation’s capital – and is part of a wave of reconsidered convictions involving the repudiated hair analysis across the U.S.
Santae Tribble, now 55, was convicted of a 1978 felony murder of taxi driver John McCormick in Washington D.C., according to the Friday decision of a district Superior Court judge.
At the 1980 trial, prosecutors and experts contended that there was a “1-in-10-million chance” that hairs found in a stocking near the crime scene were not Tribble’s.
But DNA analysis of the hairs revealed they were not his – and he was exonerated in 2012.
The award includes $400,000 in damages for each year behind bars, which includes lost wages and medical expenses, and another $100,000 per years through 2019.
Tribble contracted HIV and hepatitis, and was afflicted with severe depression and heroin addiction, during his time in prison – and he is not expected to live beyond 2019, according to the court documents. The district's attorneys argued they were not responsible for Tribble developing a heroin addiction - but the judge disagreed.
“In sum, Mr. Tribble’s ordeal did not merely deprive him of his liberty in a constitutional sense – it ruined his life, leaving broken in body and spirit, and quite literally, dying,” D.C. Superior Court Judge John Mott wrote in his Friday decision.
The suit is one of three in Washington D.C. resulting in $39 million in damages concerning wrongful convictions over bogus hair analysis. Donald E. Gates, now 64, was awarded more than $16 million in November, since police allegedly framed him for a rape and murder using the hair analysis, reported The Washington Post, who first reported on the Tribble settlement.
The FBI’s technique and testimony on hair analysis was severely flawed for decades, the Bureau admitted last April. Approximately 3,000 cases involved FBI hair analysis from 1985 to 1999 – the years of contention. The FBI is reviewing those convictions to see how many of those cases involved errors made by hair examiners. However, advocates from the Innocence Project told Forensic Magazine that the Bureau was using hair evidence as early as the 1930s, and the pool of cases could be much larger.
At least four states have been auditing their hair-based convictions since the FBI’s announcement, Forensic Magazine found last year.
But the hair evidence has been struck down in courtroom at an increasing pace in recent weeks. George D. Perrot, who has been behind bars for 30 years for a Massachusetts rape based on physical evidence consisting of a single hair, had his conviction overturned for the third time in late January. Darnell Phillips, a 44-year-old inmate in Virginia, was granted a court order last week allowing him to have DNA testing of the single hair that led to his conviction for the rape of a 10-year-old girl in 1991.