Declared ‘Innocent’ After 28 Years in Prison

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A man exonerated by DNA evidence after 28 years in prison for a fatal armed robbery has filed a damning federal complaint against D.C. police.
     Santae Tribble says he was asleep in Maryland at the time police said he was holding up taxi cab driver John McCormick in southeast Washington.
     It was about 3 a.m. on July 26, 1978, and McCormick was just coming home after working a night shift, Tribble says.
     McCormick’s wife heard the commotion outside her window and called the police, who found “found Mr. McCormick on the floor of the porch, his pockets turned out, with a fatal gunshot wound to the chest,” the complaint states.
     Tribble says the widow’s only description of the assailant was that he was black, about the same height as her husband, 5-foot-7, and had obscured his face with a stocking mask.
     “Later that morning, a Metropolitan police officer found the stocking mask that had been used by the perpetrator near the McCormick house,” the May 8 complaint states. “The MPD also recovered the bullet which killed Mr. McCormick.”
     Investigators allegedly linked the bullet that killed McCormick to the same gun that killed the victim of another armed robbery roughly two weeks before.
     Tribble says the spate of armed robberies in the area had everyone on high alert, and that the witless police force had “resorted to simply stopping, and spot checking dozens of individuals on the street in the area where the murders had occurred.”
     “But none of this activity brought them any closer to solving the case,” the 43-page complaint states.
     Tribble says police finally honed in on a lead when a local prostitute who often traded them information for handed officers a .32 caliber weapon that police believed could have been used in both shootings.
     This woman, identified in the complaint as Bobby Jean Bess or B.J. Phillips, told police that she and a friend had bought the gun from Tribble and another man named Cleveland Wright, according to the complaint.
     Tribble, who was 17 at the time, says he “had absolutely nothing to do with the McCormick homicide and robbery,” and neither did Wright.
     “Indeed, the gun was sold in early July before those crimes ever took place, and was not in their possession at the time of those crimes,” the complaint states.
     The police allegedly hauled Tribble and the other man in and tried to pressure confessions from them.
     In addition to Tribble’s “strong alibi,” he says there was another problem: the Kimel-brand gun Phillips had provided could not have fired bullets recovered from the two murders.
     F.I. Industries made the Kimel and “was not one of the three manufacturers that the Firearms Examination Section had previously determined could have made the murder weapon,” Tribble says.
     The MPD allegedly decided to bury this evidence and worked to fabricate a case against Tribble, coercing testimony both from Phillips and a recently arrested 16-year-old.
     Years later, this boy admitted that “he had been tricked by the police, and acknowledged that Mr. Wright and Mr. Tribble had done time for crimes they did not commit,” according to the complaint.
     Phillips likewise “has … admitted to lying under oath in this case,” Tribble says.
     Tribble’s persecutors also had one more trick up their sleeves: a hair in the stocking mask that “the FBI falsely reported … matched Mr. Tribble’s hair in all microscopic characteristics.”
     “In 2011, DNA testing of the hairs found in the true perpetrator’s stocking mask conclusively demonstrated that none of the hairs were Mr. Tribble’s,” the complaint states (emphasis in original).
     “In 2012, following these DNA results, a D.C. Superior Court judge vacated Mr. Tribble’s convictions and dismissed the indictment against him with prejudice,” the complaint continues. “The judge subsequently awarded Mr. Tribble a Certificate of Innocence, finding that he was actually innocent of the murder and armed robbery of Mr. McCormick.”
     By that time, however, Tribble says he had already spent 27 years in prison and more than eight years on parole for “a crime he did not commit.”
     Noting that he has “spent the most formative years of his life in prison, separated from his family and friends, including his young son, and robbed of the most basic of freedoms,” Tribble seeks punitive damages.
     The lengthy list of defendants includes Phillips, the District of Columbia, and several detectives and officers who worked for MPD and had direct involvement in Tribble’s arrest and ensuing trial.
     Tribble is represented by Jeffrey Gutman. The attorney has not returned a request for comment.

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