By Gary Robertseon
RICHMOND, Va. (Reuters) - Virginia's top court on Thursday ordered the release of a former U.S. sailor who has spent 33 years in prison, because new DNA evidence showed he did not murder a Newport News man and rape the man's wife in 1982.
Keith Allen Harward, 60, was convicted on the basis of testimony by two experts who said they matched his teeth to bite marks found on the rape victim's legs. The reliability of bite marks as evidence in a criminal trial has increasingly come under challenge in recent years.
The decision, by the Virginia State Court, came a day after the state's attorney general, Mark Herring, said he believed Harward was innocent.
"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. "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 DNA found at the scene matched that of Jerry Crotty, who died in an Ohio prison in 2006, Herring said.
Crotty had been a Navy shipmate of Harward's at the time of the murder and rape, according to The Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic that handles cases in which post-conviction DNA testing of evidence can result in conclusive proof of innocence.
(Editing by Scott Malone)