Keith Allen Harward, a sailor who had been imprisoned for over 33 years for the killing of Newport News man Jesse Perron and the rape of his wife, is scheduled for release after a Virginia Supreme Court granted an injunction of actual innocence and struck out his convictions. The sailor was convicted of bludgeoning Perron to death with a crowbar before sexually assaulting his wife for hours even as their children slept in a nearby room.
As the Newport News Daily Press reports, Harward was convicted because experts controversially matched his teeth to the bite marks left on the legs of the rape victim. The evidence that put him away has now been discredited, and Harward is scheduled for release from the Nottoway Correctional Center in Burkeville Friday at 1 p.m.
— Innocence Project (@innocence) March 15, 2016
Harward is the 25th wrongful person convicted for bite-mark evidence since 2000.
“How many more Mr. Harwards do we have to have before we stop admitting bite-mark evidence in trial? It almost cost him his life and it cost him 33 years in prison,” said Chris Fabricant, the director of strategic litigation for the Innocent Project.
The Virginia Department of Forensic Science also conducted DNA testing and did not find Harward’s genetic profile in the sperm left behind in the sexual assault. The sperm fit the profile of Jerry L. Crotty, a colleague of Harward on the USS Carl Vinson. Crotty died in an Ohio prison, where he was serving time for attempted burglary, abduction, and a slew of other charges. The rape victim never identified Harward as her assailant because there were no lights in the house during the attack.
Additionally, she described her attacker as a clean-shaven white male between 19 and 20-years-old and wearing a sailor’s uniform. Crotty was 19, while Harward was 26. A security guard at the shipyard acknowledged that Harward was also clean–shaven and saw him with blood on his uniform. But old photographs showed that Harward was wearing a moustache back in the day.
Harward was convicted without any stringent DNA tests and wrote to the Innocent Project group to exonerate him. The Innocent Project, a group that had helped overturn over 18 wrongful convictions, took an interest in his case.
Olga Akselrod, a lawyer with Innocence Project, said, “We are absolutely thrilled the Supreme Court moved so quickly.
The undisputed action by the Virginia Supreme Court came 24 hours after Attorney General Mark R. Herring declared that he believed Harward had been wrongfully accused. His office had sided with a petition for a summons of actual innocent. The writ was filed on March 4 by Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, a law firm based in Washington, and the Innocence Project.
— CA Innocence Project (@CA_Innocence) April 7, 2016
Roy Lasris, who legally represented Harward during his trial in the 80s, was optimistic that the state would compensate a man that they had deprived of living a meaningful life for 33 years, with education, social support, and everything else needed to make something of his life outside prison.
In the same vein, Herring has asked for the state to remove Harward’s name from the sex-offender registry.
He added, “It’s just heartbreaking to think that more than half of his life was spent behind bars when he didn’t belong there. The Commonwealth can’t give him back those years, but we can say that we got it wrong, that we’re sorry, and that we’re working to make it right.”
The office of the Attorney General said it was the fifth writ of actual innocence awarded by the Supreme Court of Virginia based on new found biological evidence. The Supreme Court takes several weeks before acting on any petition filed, but they responded swiftly to the case of Keith Allen Harward.
[Image via Virginia Department of Corrections]