An ex-sailor who spent more than three decades in prison for a rape and a murder he didn’t commit walked out of prison a free man on Friday.
Keith Allen Harward was cleared of all wrongdoing by the Virginia Supreme Court Thursday, based on new DNA evidence.
He was convicted in 1982 of killing Jesse Perron and raping his wife while his ship, the USS Carl Vinson, was docked in Newport News, Virginia. The case’s strongest evidence was the testimony of two experts who said Harward’s teeth match bite marks on the female victim’s leg.
Keith Harward as a young member of the U.S. Navy (The Innocence Project)
The Innocence Project, which petitioned the state’s highest court, said DNA testing on sperm left at the crime scene did not match Harward. Instead, it implicated another sailor on the ship, Jerry L. Crotty, who died in an Ohio prison in June 2006 while serving a life sentence for abduction.
“I thought I was going to die in prison,” Harward told reporters after his release Friday.
Law enforcement authorities who helped wrongly convict him are “criminals,” Harward said. “When I first got convicted I was defeated,” he said. “I was overwhelmed.”
Attorney General Mark Herring apologized on behalf of the state.
"It's just heartbreaking to think that more than half of his life was spent behind bars when he didn't belong there," he said. "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."