BURKEVILLE, Va. (TheBlaze/AP) -- A 60-year-old man who spent more than three decades behind bars for crimes authorities now say he didn't commit was released from a Virginia prison on Friday.
Keith Allen Harward walked out of the Nottoway Correctional Center a day after the Virginia Supreme Court agreed that DNA evidence proves he's innocent of the 1982 killing of Jesse Perron and the rape of his wife in Newport News.
Harward was a sailor on the USS Carl Vinson, which was stationed at the shipyard close to the victims' home at the time of the crime. A security guard identified Harward as the man he saw entering the shipyard wearing a bloody uniform, but the woman never identified him as her attacker. The prosecution's case relied heavily on the testimony of two experts who testified that his teeth matched bite marks on the woman's leg. No other physical evidence linked Harward to the crime.
"Based on a careful and exhaustive examination of the circumstances, including the latest DNA testing of evidence recovered at the crime scene, it is clear that Keith Harward is innocent of the crimes for which he has been convicted," Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said at a news conference on Friday.
Herring said that had the latest scientific testing been available at the time of Harward's trial, "no rational trier of fact" would have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
"Therefore, in light of this new evidence, the Commonwealth agrees that the writ of actual innocence should be issued as quickly as possible, and Harward's conviction should be vacated," Herring said.
The Innocence Project got involved in Harward's case about two years ago and pushed for DNA tests, which failed to identify Harward's genetic profile in sperm left at the crime scene. The DNA matched that of one of Harward's former shipmate's, Jerry L. Crotty, who died in an Ohio prison in June 2006, where he was serving a sentence for abduction.
The reliability of bite-mark evidence has come under increased scrutiny in recent years, but is still used in courts.
An Associated Press investigation in 2013 found that at least 24 men convicted or charged with murder or rape based on bite marks found on victims have been exonerated in the U.S. since 2000. The Associated Press story was based on decades of court records, archives, news reports and filings by the Innocence Project.