(NEWPORT NEWS, Va.) -- A former U.S. sailor who has spent 33 years in prison will be released as early as Friday after new DNA evidence showed he was wrongfully convicted of murder and rape.
Keith Allen Harward, 60, was found guilty for the 1982 brutal murder of a Newport News, Virginia, man and the rape of the man's wife. Key to his conviction was testimony by two experts who implicated Harward due to similarities between his teeth and bite marks that were found on the rape victim's legs.
The Virginia State Court decided to issue Harward’s release after the state's attorney general, Mark Herring, said new evidence shows he is innocent of the crimes that have kept him in prison for decades.
"It's just heartbreaking to think that more than half of his life was spent behind bars when he didn't belong there," Herring said in a press release. "It's great to know that Mr. Harward will soon be reunited with his family.”
Harward's petition to be declared innocent was based on the doubt of the bite-mark comparison and DNA found at the scene that his lawyers submitted to the court showing that he could not have committed the rape and murder.
Instead, the DNA profile matched Jerry Crotty, who had previously died in an Ohio prison in 2006, where he was detained for a 2002 conviction for abduction, according to the court's writ of innocence.
Crotty and Harward were in the Navy together at the time of the murder and rape, according to The Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic well-known for handling cases in which post-conviction DNA testing helps provide proof of innocence.
This is the fifth writ of actual innocence granted by Virginia’s top court based on new biological evidence.
"In light of this new evidence, the Commonwealth agrees that the writ should issue expeditiously, and Harward's convictions from the Circuit Court for the City of Newport News ... should be vacated," the court's writ of innocence reads. "No rational trier of fact would have found proof of Harward’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."
Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.