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.
“It is hard to quantify the hardship that those who have been wrongfully convicted have suffered,” Wolf wrote to Justice Department Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz on Thursday.
“A justice system that fully protects the constitutional rights of criminal defendants is essential to the integrity of our republic. I urge you to move quickly on this review,” said Wolf, who chairs the House appropriations subcommittee that funds the Justice Department.
Tribble wants exoneration
Even with Friday’s moves by prosecutors, Tribble’s fight to clear his name is not over. He has asked a court for full exoneration. 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.
“The government’s motion stops well short of acknowledging that Mr. Tribble is actually innocent,” Sandra K. Levick, head of special litigation for the District’s Public Defender’s Service and Tribble’s lawyer.