Saturday, April 28, 2012

Convictions linked to FBI lab’s flawed forensics

"Tribble would become the 290th person cleared by post-conviction DNA testing in the United States if a D.C. Superior Court judge grants his motion under the D.C. Innocence Protection Act."

Prosecutors agree: Murder conviction of D.C. man should be overturned
By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post
April 27, 2012

Video: Santae Tribble was convicted of murdering cab driver John McCormick in 1978. In 2012, DNA retesting of the evidence that was key in his conviction—hair from a stocking mask found near the scene of the murder—has proved that none of the 13 hairs recovered could have come from Tribble. D.C. public defense lawyer Sandra Levick has filed a motion seeking Tribble's exoneration.

Federal prosecutors on Friday acknowledged errors in the scientific evidence that helped send a Washington man to prison for 28 years for murder and took the extraordinary step of agreeing to have his conviction overturned.

U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. cited DNA evidence in also agreeing to drop the murder charge against Santae A. Tribble and never try him again. But even as the prosecutor said the evidence that convicted Tribble was flawed, Machen stopped short of declaring him innocent.

Investigating flaws in forensics: A Washington Post investigation reveals that Justice Department officials have known for years that flaws in forensic techniques and weak laboratory standards may have led to the convictions of innocent people across the country, raising the question: How many more are out there? Read related story.

Tribble, 51, was found guilty of murdering a District taxi driver in an early morning robbery on July 26, 1978. His case was featured in articles last week in which The Washington Post reported that Justice Department officials have known for years that flawed forensic work might have led to convictions of potentially innocent people.

In Tribble’s case, prosecutors and the FBI laboratory were incorrect in linking a hair found near the murder scene to Tribble, according to recent DNA test results.

As the U.S. attorney’s office filed court papers late Friday, three former senior FBI lab experts and a national civil liberties group joined calls for the bureau and the Justice Department to review testimony in all convictions nationwide that depended on FBI hair evidence before 1996. Such a review would determine whether the evidence should be retested using DNA.

The Post reported last week that the Justice Department never reviewed thousands of cases that relied on potentially flawed hair comparisons, resulting in men like Tribble staying in prison. In many of the cases that the agency did review and found to have problems, prosecutors never notified defendants or their lawyers of the issues uncovered.

Machen has agreed to review all District convictions obtained with hair evidence and will ask the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project to assess whether any old evidence should be retested with modern DNA techniques. Justice Department and FBI officials said they still were considering a similar review nationwide.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) this week urged the Justice Department to review its handling of about 250 questionable convictions identified by The Post, most of which relied on hair comparisons...