Former Sailor Exonerated By DNA And Released After 33 Years In Prison

In a case reminiscent of the first conviction in the story of Making a Murderer, a former U.S. sailor was exonerated after spending 33 years in prison thanks to new DNA evidence that proved he was wrongfully convicted. Keith Allen Harward, now 60, had been imprisoned for the 1982 murder of a Virginia man and the rape of his wife, with the key evidence in his trial being teeth and bite marks on the woman’s leg that bore similarities to his teeth and bite mark patterns, according to two expert witnesses.

Today, ABC News reported that Harward was released from prison to a bittersweet homecoming. A video of the release shows a joyful Harward making a statement at a press conference, but choking up when telling reporters that the most difficult part of the day was his regret that his parents had not lived to witness his release and vindication.

“It killed them. It devastated them.”

Harward talked about how he had to start his life over and all the changes in the world that had occurred since he’d first been put behind bars; he still has a cassette player that he used during his years in jail.

“It’s a new world… cell phones… computers… internet.”

While Harward expressed joy for his newfound freedom, telling reporters he wanted his first meal outside of prison to be fried oysters, he had harsh words for the prosecutor’s office in Newport News for their role in putting away the wrong man and taking away over three decades of his life

“They weren’t looking for the truth, they were looking for a conviction.”

The circumstances and some of the words from Harward sound very familiar to those following the case of Steven Avery, who gained worldwide fame (and notoriety) for the Making a Murderer documentary that discussed both of his court cases. First, his wrongful conviction on a rape charge where he was later found to be innocent and released, but then the subsequent murder charges that he was convicted of right before he was about to go to trial in a lawsuit against the prosecutors that wrongfully put him in jail for years.

DNA samples
[Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images]
Much like Avery, Harward refused to make a plea deal, believing his innocence would be proven in the end. In 2006, he wrote a letter to The Innocence Project, which took up his case. A review of DNA evidence showed that Harward was not the guilty party, and in fact, the DNA matched his shipmate, Jerry Crotty. Crotty died in an Ohio prison 10 years ago while serving a sentence for abduction.

The Innocence Project said that while they celebrated Harward’s release, the loss of 33 years of an innocent man’s life remains a great tragedy, according to Olga Akselrod, one of Harward’s lawyers with The Innocence Project.

“This case has resulted in unspeakable loss for so many people. The 33 years that Mr. Harward lost cannot be returned to him. Those are years people are building careers, and families.”

Harward hasn’t decided yet if he’ll file any lawsuits in relation to his wrongful conviction, but he has said that someone needs to pay for all the years that were taken away from him.

In Making a Murderer, many people feel that after Steven Avery’s release from prison due to his wrongful conviction, he was later framed by local police for murder because of the huge lawsuit he had filed against those responsible for his wrongful imprisonment. Avery might caution Harward about taking such actions if Avery’s claims of being framed are true.

For now, Harward is just enjoying his freedom and the joy of being able to eat and do as he pleases.

“I can go out and hug a tree, or sit in a park — whatever I want to do, because I can do it now.”

[Photo courtesy of The Innocence Project]

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