Judge still contemplating DC man's innocence one year later

A year has passed since a D.C. Superior Court judge threw out the murder conviction of Cleveland Wright, a D.C. man sent to prison for 28 years on hair analysis prosecutors now admit was false.

Wright is eligible to be compensated for his decades behind bars, but so far, the judge in the case has given no indication on where she stands.

Wright, 56, is eligible to receive $50,000 a year for every year he was locked up, but in order to get that money from the government, a judge must issue what is called a certificate of actual innocence.

Since 2009, four other D.C. men sent to prison on erroneous hair analysis have all been paid, but for reasons still unclear, Wright has nothing.

Wright has been out of prison since 2007 and spends his days working odd jobs and caring for his elderly aunt. He lives with his parents, Joe and Ocie Wright, and survives on food stamps and a small social security disability payment.

In a motion filed last week, his attorney Sandra Levick wrote, "This is unconscionable."

"I've just been holding on," said Wright in an interview on Monday. "I just hold on. Sometimes I cry about it, but just keep on stepping."

In 1979, prosecutors charged Wright and Santae Tribble with the murders of two men carried out 13 days apart.

The theory was they were stick-up men working together.

But at his trial, Wright was convicted of one murder and acquitted in the other.

The same thing happened to Tribble.

Years later in 2012, DNA testing on hair evidence used at trial exonerated both men.

"I was falsely accused and did time for something I totally didn't know anything about," said Wright.

What is hard for Wright and his parents to understand is why Tribble has been given a certificate of actual innocence, but he has not.

"I just can't understand it," Wright said. "But I believe I'm going to get it and I hope it will be soon."

Wright's parents have supported their son through thick and thin, and at trial, both took the stand and told the jury Cleveland was at home the night of both murders.

"It's been rough, real rough," said Cleveland's father, Joe Wright, 79. "You can see it on my wife's face and mine too -- it's been horrible."

In both pleadings to the court, prosecutors used slightly different language on whether to grant Tribble and Wright certificates of actual innocence.

In Tribble's, prosecutors wrote it "does not oppose it," while in Wright's, they said the government "takes no position."

Judge Laura Cordero has the case, and in last August asked to see the transcripts from Wright's trial.

There has been nothing since.

"When I found the word and you hear the word, the Bible says faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God, that's where my faith comes from, and I believe the judge is going to give me that certificate," said Wright.

He will turn 57 years old next month and he is hoping the judge will make a decision by then.

According to Wright's attorney, the judge cannot ignore his request. She must either grant the certificate of actual innocence or hold a hearing.

We did reach out to Judge Cordero, but so far, she has not responded to our request for comment.

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