Virginia attorney general to seek exoneration of man imprisoned for murder

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 06, 2016 5:18 PM

(Reuters) - Virginia's attorney general will seek to help exonerate a man imprisoned for a 1982 murder and rape after DNA evidence showed another man committed the crime.

Keith Harward, 59, has been in prison since 1986, and Attorney General Mark Herring said on Wednesday he would ask the state Supreme Court to vacate Howard's convictions as quickly as possible.

"In this case, the Commonwealth got it wrong, and the pursuit of justice requires me to join in support of Mr. Harward's petition" for exoneration before the high court, Herring said in a statement.

Harward, 59, was convicted of killing Jesse Perron, who was beaten to death with a crowbar in Newport News, and for the sexual assault of his wife. He was convicted largely on the testimony of two forensic dentists who said Harward's teeth matched bite marks left on the woman's legs.

Harward was sentenced to life in prison.

DNA from the crime scene was checked through the national Combined DNA Index System and turned up a match with another man, Jerry Crotty, who died in an Ohio prison in 2006.

Crotty and Harward were shipmates aboard the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, the Innocence Project reported. The organization, which aids prisoners who could be proven not guilty through DNA testing, is helping Harward in his bid to be cleared.

Harward filed his petition for exoneration last month.

Herring said that if the DNA 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."

Herring said it could be weeks before the Supreme Court heard Harward's case. Harward could request a bail hearing in Newport News to get him out of prison, the attorney general said.

Governor Terry McAuliffe's office also is working through the state Parole Board to weigh whether a pardon is appropriate, the statement said.

(Fixes typographical error in 5th paragraph.)

(Reporting by Ian Simpson)