In an interview accompanied by his attorney, Wright maintained his innocence, just as he has since his August 1978 arrest. Wright acknowledged that he sold guns as a young adult to support a dice-game habit but said his time in prison changed him from a teenage street hustler into a born-again volunteer at his Pentecostal church in Northeast Washington.
“All I can say is, I never killed anyone,” Wright said. “All I know is that God set me free.”
Wright said he has forgiven everyone involved in his conviction.
“I thank Him for giving me a new look at life, so I can comfort somebody else that’s going through something,” said Wright, quoting passages from the Bible, which he says he reads daily. “I can let them know what God did for me.”
Wright, then 20, and Santae Tribble, then 17, were childhood friends whom prosecutors accused of teaming up to rob and kill two men using the same gun, two weeks apart in the same Southeast Washington neighborhood in July 1978. Although both men were charged in both slayings, juries convicted one defendant in each killing.
Key evidence in both cases came from the FBI Laboratory, where a forensic expert microscopically matched Tribble’s hair to one in a stocking found near one of the crime scenes. The killer wore a stocking mask.
However, court-ordered DNA testing last year confirmed that none of the 13 hairs retrieved from the stocking shared Tribble’s or Wright’s genetic profile. In December, Superior Court Judge Laura A. Cordero found that “by clear and convincing evidence” Tribble, now 52, was not guilty and that he had nothing to do with the crime for which he was convicted.
Wright was acquitted in that case. But in a new filing Monday, Wright asked Cordero to consider his conviction in the other slaying.
Prosecutors in Wright’s trial never argued that his hair was found in the stocking mask. But Wright’s attorney said that the flawed FBI hair match implicated him as well as his co-defendant at both men’s trials and that new DNA results and Tribble’s exoneration were clear and convincing evidence of Wright’s innocence.
“The visual match of the hair that seemed to place Mr. Tribble and therefore Mr. Wright, his close friend, on the scene misled. The hairs were not theirs,” said Sandra K. Levick, chief of special litigation for the D.C. Public Defender Service.
“If neither of them was the masked murderer of [the first victim], then neither of them was the murderer of [the second], as the same gun was used to kill both men under similar circumstances,” wrote Levick, who handled each man’s post-conviction assertion.
Bill Miller, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr., said the office “is reviewing the motion and has no further comment at this time.”
Prosecutors supported Tribble’s effort to vacate his conviction after he served 28 years in prison, although the government neither joined nor contested his petition for innocence.