RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring is asking the state Supreme Court to free a man who was wrongly convicted of a murder more than 30 years ago.
The Department of Forensic Science says DNA evidence shows that Keith Allen Harward was not the perpetrator in a case stemming from a 1982 rape and murder in Newport News.
Herring said "the Commonwealth got it wrong" and is pushing to have Harward released.
Harward, now 59, spent the last 33 years in prison, convicted in 1983 of killing Jesse Perron with a crowbar and sexually assaulted the dying man's wife. "For more than 30 years, Mr. Harward has never admitted guilt, and he now has presented DNA evidence that proves he could not have been the perpetrator."
Herring's office says DNA evidence shows that a former sailor, Jerry L. Crotty, committed the crime. He died in 2006 in an Ohio prison, where he'd been detained for a 2002 abduction.
"If the new scientific testing results had been available at the time of his trial, no rational trier of fact would have found proof of Harward's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt," said Herring.
"His trial was a complete farce," said NBC12 legal expert, Steve Benjamin.
Benjamin pointed out two key techniques used to convict Harward that would never pass for valid evidence today: bite mark comparisons between the injury on the victim's body and the suspect's dental records and enhanced identification through hypnosis. "We used junk science, forensic techniques that have been thoroughly discredited, and that's what we did to him -- 33 years in prison."
"The Commonwealth agrees that the root of actual innocence should be issued as quickly as possible," said Herring.
Herring has asked the Virginia Supreme Court to expedited the case, but it may take the court a few weeks to review the petition. In the meantime, Harward can request a bail hearing at Newport News Circuit Court that could get him out of jail before the full review is finished. Benjamin said, before complete exoneration, he'd still have to register as a sex offender.
"It is probably in the short term best to keep him there because we have so destroyed his life that he has nowhere to go, no family to care for him, and his health is shot. That's how broken this system is. That's how terribly we've done this man," said Benjamin.
Harward can now request a bail hearing at Newport News Circuit Court that could get him out of jail before the full review is finished.
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