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State agrees on wrongful conviction claim

(AP) DNA evidence proves that a man who is serving a life sentence was wrongfully convicted of rape and murder more than three decades ago, Virginia’s attorney general said Wednesday.

The attorney general’s office has filed a brief with the state Supreme Court, arguing that 59-year-old Keith Allen Harward’s conviction should be vacated.

Harward was convicted in the 1982 killing of Jesse Perron and the rape of his wife. His conviction was largely based on now-questionable bite mark comparison evidence. Recent DNA tests failed to identify Harward’s genetic profile in sperm left at the crime scene.

“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,” Attorney General Mark Herring said in a news release.

Herring said DNA testing also proves that Jerry L. Crotty, a former sailor who was stationed in the area at the time of the offenses, is responsible for the crimes.

Crotty died at the Ohio Department of Corrections in June 2006. He had been serving time after being convicted of abduction.

Harward’s lawyers have filed a petition for a writ of actual innocence with the state Supreme Court. Herring said his office is working with Harward’s attorneys to expedite the process.

“In this case, the commonwealth got it wrong, and the pursuit of justice requires me to join in support of Mr. Harward’s petition,” Herring said.

The governor’s office has launched an investigation into the case to see if a pardon is appropriate.

Herring said Harward has the opportunity to request a bail hearing to get out of prison, pending the court’s decision.

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