RICHMOND (WSLS10) - After serving more than 30 years, a Virginia man could be released from prison after new DNA evidence proves his innocence.
Keith Allen Harward was convicted of committing a 1982 rape and murder in Newport News.
But new DNA testing by the Department of Forensic Science has found Jerry Crotty, a former sailor stationed in the area at the time, responsible for the crime.
Harward has filed a petition for a writ of actual innocence, which Attorney General Mark Herring has expedited.
In a statement, A.G. Herring says, "Based on a careful and exhaustive examination of the circumstances including the latest DNA testing of evidence recovered at the crime scene, it is clear that Keith Harward is innocent of the crimes for which he has been convicted." He adds, "In this case, the Commonwealth got it wrong, and the pursuit of justice requires me to join in support of Mr. Harward's petition."
Read the full release below.
RICHMOND(April 6, 2016)-Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued the following statement regarding the case of Keith Allen Harward who has filed a petition for a writ of actual innocence for his convictions stemming from a 1982 rape and murder in Newport News. In light of new DNA evidence showing that Harward was not the perpetrator, the Commonwealth has filed papers to support his petition to be declared innocent by the Supreme Court of Virginia and have his convictions vacated, and has requested that the matter be expedited:
"In January, my office was notified that Keith Allen Harward intended to file a petition for a writ of actual innocence to vacate his convictions for first degree murder, rape, forcible sodomy, and robbery based on the results of new DNA testing performed by the Department of Forensic Science.
"Since that time, we have been in close contact with Mr. Harward's attorneys, cooperating with them to expedite the process and carefully considering and investigating the evidence and all the circumstances as the legal proceedings and additional DNA testing have moved forward. We have also worked alongside Newport News Commonwealth's Attorney Howard Gwynn as the Commonwealth's Attorney in the jurisdiction where the crime was committed and the convictions were handed down.
"We have taken this claim seriously, and we have approached this with an open mind and a commitment to pursuing the truth and ensuring that justice is served. Alice Armstrong, my Director of Actual Innocence and Capital Litigation, has led our efforts, and I sincerely appreciate her hard work and diligent review of this matter.
"For more than 30 years, Mr. Harward has never admitted guilt, and he now has presented DNA evidence that proves he could not have been the perpetrator.
"Moreover, the profile developed from the DNA recovered at the crime scene has been compared to the National DNA databank, and it shows that the criminal responsible for this brutal crime is not Keith Harward, but Jerry L. Crotty, a former a sailor who was stationed in the area at the time of the offenses. Crotty died in the custody of the Ohio Department of Corrections on June 6, 2006, where he was detained for a 2002 conviction for abduction.
"Based on a careful and exhaustive examination of the circumstances including the latest DNA testing of evidence recovered at the crime scene, it is clear that Keith Harward is innocent of the crimes for which he has been convicted.
"If the new scientific testing 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.
"Therefore, in light of this new evidence, the Commonwealth agrees that Mr. Harward's writ of actual innocence should be issued as quickly as possible, and his convictions should be vacated.
"My office has filed a brief in the Supreme Court of Virginia to that effect.
"We have made this decision in conjunction with and with the consent of Newport News Commonwealth's Attorney Howard Gwynn, who has been an exceptional partner throughout this process and agrees that this is the proper step to take.
"We notified Mr. Harward's attorneys of this development this morning, and as we have done over the past few months, we will continue to work with them to get this situation resolved as quickly as possible and to get Mr. Harward out of prison.
"It will likely be a few weeks before the Supreme Court of Virginia has an opportunity to fully review and rule on this petition for a writ of actual innocence. However, now that we have consented to the relief and agree that he should be out of jail, Mr. Harward has the opportunity to request a bail hearing in Newport News Circuit Court that could get him out of jail, pending a decision by the Supreme Court of Virginia.
"The Governor's Office has also begun working through the Parole Board to evaluate whether a pardon of some fashion is appropriate in this situation and we will of course work with them as that process unfolds.
"Our criminal justice system does not exist simply to get convictions. It exists to pursue truth and justice. The central purpose of any system of criminal justice is to convict the guilty and free the innocent. Within that system, the Attorney General is obligated to present to the Court in each case the facts and the law that ensure a just result. When the system gets it wrong, when the system fails to deliver justice, we have to say so.
"In this case, the Commonwealth got it wrong, and the pursuit of justice requires me to join in support of Mr. Harward's petition."