What Happens After Jurors Get It Wrong? A judge threw out Santae Tribble's murder conviction earlier this year, after Tribble had spent decades in prison. Now, Tribble is fighting for a finding of actual legal innocence that would help him get compensation for the years he spent behind bars. Two jurors who convicted him have written to the court on his behalf.
NPR logo

What Happens After Jurors Get It Wrong?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/163394555/163419335" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
What Happens After Jurors Get It Wrong?


What Happens After Jurors Get It Wrong?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/163394555/163419335" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

Now a story about regrets and trying to right a very old wrong. Back in 1981, a jury convicted a Washington, D.C. man named Santae Tribble of murder. Today, two women on that jury believe they were mistaken. A judge threw out the conviction earlier this year and Tribble is asking to be declared legally innocent.

NPR's Carrie Johnson has the story of his case and of the jurors now haunted by their decision to convict.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: In January 1981, a jury took only a few hours to convict Santae Tribble of shooting a cabbie dead in a botched robbery. The key evidence was a woman's stocking the murderer wore over his face. That stocking contained hair the FBI said it had matched to Tribble.

Susan Dankoff, a fundraising executive in Washington, was a juror in the case.

SUSAN DANKOFF: They admitted that they didn't know with certainty but the numbers they threw out were so steep as to make it virtually certain that it was his hair.

JOHNSON: In fact, prosecutors told the jury in the closing argument there was only a one in 10 million chance it could be someone else's hair. But Santae Tribble, his family members, and his girlfriend all testified that he was home, sleeping at the time of the murder.

Dankoff remembers she considered the alibi and rejected it.

DANKOFF: Then you start to think, OK, maybe they're covering for him. And I think that that was really what it came down to.

JOHNSON: So the jury voted to convict. But the hair analysis that proved so persuasive to the jurors has been completely discredited. Even the Justice Department says Santae Tribble didn't do it.

Dankoff says she got a call from Tribble's lawyer not too long ago letting her know.

DANKOFF: And that really, really left a mark. I - I was just devastated. I think I walked around feeling numb for a week after hearing that.

JOHNSON: Anita Woodruff also served on that jury 30 years ago. She says she went home and cried after voting to convict. The case never really left her. So, when Tribble's lawyer called to say new DNA tests on that hair did not match...

ANITA WOODRUFF: And I was like, Oh my God. I said, he spent all that time in jail for nothing.

JOHNSON: Woodruff was only 20 years old at the time of the trial, close in age and experience to Santae Tribble.

WOODRUFF: I started thinking about paralleling his life with mine. You know, and I'm thinking about all the things that, you know, I did - got married, you know, got a divorce but I had kids. You know, and you get to raise your kids, and I got to see them get their license and go to proms and high school graduations.

JOHNSON: Santae Tribble had none of that.

SANTAE TRIBBLE: I did have a son that was born soon after I was incarcerated. I missed his entire life growing up.

JOHNSON: Tribble He says he understands the jury and the justice system made a mistake.

TRIBBLE: Like, they went the extra mile to, when the pieces didn't fit, to make them fit. Now that it's clear that the pieces don't fit, make it right.

JOHNSON: Under the law, Tribble can collect as much as $50,000 a year for each year he was wrongfully incarcerated, if a judge signs off and formally declares him innocent. Both jurors from his trial so long ago have urged the court to support that idea.

Santae Tribble, at 51 years old, has no job, no money and no real home. He's living with his older brother. No big dreams, maybe a landscaping business, he says in an interview at his lawyer's office.

You like being outside?


JOHNSON: All those years being inside.


TRIBBLE: Yeah, that probably has something to do with it.


JOHNSON: But you like growing things.

TRIBBLE: Well, in landscaping they call it beautification. You know, to make it pretty, and the flowers and arranging the grass and stuff like that.

JOHNSON: He says he only wants a chance, another chance, at a normal life.

Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.