Judge grants certificate of actual innocence to DC man wrongly convicted of murder

A D.C. man whose murder conviction was thrown out more than a year ago finally received his certificate of actual innocence on Friday. Cleveland Wright was sent to prison for 28 years on hair analysis prosecutors now admit was false.

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. Tibble received his certificate, while Wright kept waiting. 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."

With the issuance of his certificate of actual innocence, Wright, 57, becomes eligible to be compensated fro the decades he spent behind bars-- at a rate of $50,000 per year for every year he was locked up. He had been waiting for the judge in the case to issue her findings in order to receive the money from the government.

D.C. Superior Court Judge Laura Cordero issued Wright's certificate of actual innocence, which reads in part:

"Based on the entire record in this mater, including the new evidence before this court, the court finds by clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Wright did not commit the crimes of first-degree murder while armed, first-degree felony murder and armed robbery of Mr. Horn, of which he was convicted in this case. This new evidence is neither cumulative nor impeaching, as DNA testing was not available at the time of Mr. Wright's trial. Mr. Wright did not assert a different theory of defense at trial. To the contrary, Mr. Wright has steadfastly maintained his innocence for more than thirty-six years-- at trial, on appeal, before the parole board and in post-conviction letters to attorneys and the news media."

The court concludes by clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Wright is actually innocent of first-degree murder while armed, first-degree felony murder and armed robbery of Mr. Horn, of which he was convicted in this case."


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

"I've just been holding on," Wright said in an interview with FOX 5's Paul Wagner back in February. "I just hold on. Sometimes I cry about it, but just keep on stepping."

Up Next:


  • Popular

  • Recent

More Stories You May Be Interested In - Includes Advertiser Stories