RICHMOND, Va., April 7 (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.
Related: People wrongfully convicted and released from prison:
People who have been wrongfully imprisoned and released
Former US sailor cleared of murder, rape after 33 years in prison
Pat Turner, left, hugs Anthony Ray Hinton as he leaves the Jefferson County jail, Friday, April 3, 2015, in Birmingham, Ala. Hinton spent nearly 30 years on Alabama's death row, and was set free Friday after prosecutors told a judge they won't re-try him for the 1985 slayings of two fast-food managers. (AP Photo/Hal Yeager)
Henry McCollum holds a framed copy of his pardon before a hearing on compensation by the state for his wrongful conviction on Sept. 2, 2015 in Raleigh, N.C. McCollum was the state's longest serving death row inmate when he was released in 2014 after three decades in prison after being wrongfully convicted in a girl's death. (AP Photo/Jonathan Drew)
FILE - In this July 19, 2006 file photo, Anthony Porter, who served more than 16 years in prison after being convicted of murder in 1982 and was later released in 1999 after another man confessed to the crime, speaks at a news conference in Chicago. On Thursday, Oct. 30, 2014, a Cook County judge ordered the release of Alstory Simon, whose confession helped free Porter from death row. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
FILE - In this March 13, 2007 file photo, Steven Avery listens to testimony in the courtroom at the Calumet County Courthouse in Chilton, Wis. A new book by a district attorney who helped get Avery out of prison the first time says a lot can be learned from the original wrongful conviction and how it set into motion a series of events that destroyed lives, including the killing of 25-year-old Teresa Halbach on Halloween 2005. Avery spent 18 years in prison for rape before he was freed in 2003 after DNA samples proved another man, Gregory Allen, committed that crime. Avery was ultimately sentenced in 2007 to life without chance for parole for Halbachâs death near his family's rural auto salvage lot. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)
David McCallum, left, his comforted by Rosia Nealy, the mother of Willie Stuckey, as he weeps after his exoneration, Wednesday Oct. 15, 2014 in New York. McCallum and Stuckey, who died in prison, were 16 years old when they were convicted of murder. A judge exonerated both men for wrongful conviction. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2014, file photo, Susan Mellen, left, is exonerated of murder by Superior Court Judge Mark Arnold in Torrance, Calif. At right, her attorney Deirdre O'Connor. Mellen spent 17 years in prison after being convicted of murder in the death of Richard Daly, a homeless man in 1997. Three gang members subsequently were linked to the crime, and one was convicted of the killing. The Los Angeles district attorney is creating a unit to review wrongful conviction claims. District Attorney Jackie Lacey said Monday, June 29, 2015, that the conviction review unit would join nearly two dozen other prosecutors' offices nationwide that review claims of innocence. (Daily Breeze/Brad Graverson via AP, Pool, File )
In this July 10, 2013 photo, Daniel Taylor, of Chicago, who was exonerated after spending nearly two decades in prison for a murder he didn't commit, poses for a photo after a reception at the Center on Wrongful Convictions in Chicago, celebrating his release. According to a report being released Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, by the National Registry of Exonerations, there was a record number of exonerations nationwide in 2013, with 87 inmates released after serving time for crimes. Texas, Illinois and Missouri were among the states with the most recorded exonerations. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)
Alan Northrop waits outside the office of Gov. Jay Inslee before Inslee signed a measure that would allow people who have been wrongfully convicted to seek state compensation for the years they were imprisoned, Wednesday, May 8, 2013, in Olympia, Wash. Northrop was convicted of rape and served 17 years in prison before he was exonerated by DNA evidence. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Bruce Lisker speaks during a news conference after being released from Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, Calif., Thursday, Aug. 13, 2009. Lisker was released Thursday morning from Mule Creek State Prison near Sacramento, a week after a judge overturned his murder conviction, citing false trial evidence and sloppy defense work. The 44-year-old Lisker had been behind bars since his mother, Dorka, was beaten and stabbed at her home in March 1983. He was convicted two years later and got 16 years to life. (AP Photo/Robert Durelll)
** FILE ** Lynn Dejac realizes she will be free on bail after listening to Judge John Michalski's ruling in the State Supreme Court in Buffalo, N.Y. in this Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2007 file photo. A 13-year-old girl believed to have been strangled in 1993 actually died of a cocaine overdose, prosecutors said Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2008 exonerating the girl's mother, who spent 13 years in prison on a wrongful murder conviction. (AP Photo/Don Heupel)
Peter and Olympia Limone laugh during an interview with the Associated Press at their home in Medford, Mass., Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007. For three decades Olympia essentially lived as a widow, raising four children on her own, finding new jobs and ways to make ends meet while her husband grew old behind bars, convicted of a murder the FBI knew they did not commit. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Louis Santos of Boston, whose murder conviction in a 1983 robbery was overturned by the Supreme Judicial Court in 1988, speaks at a news conference on pending legislation to provide compensation to those wrongfully convicted and later released on grounds of innocence, at the Statehouse in Boston, Tuesday, July 20, 2004. Listening are Geline Williams, center, executive director of the state District Attorneys Association, and State Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, D-Boston, a co-sponsor of the legislation. (AP Photo/Julia Malakie)
Surrounded by his lawyers and supporters, Michael Evans, center, talks to reporters at a news conference at Federal Court after he and Paul Terry, second from right backround, filed a lawsuit against the City of Chicago and more than a dozen current and former police department officials, Monday, May 24, 2004, in Chicago. Evans and Terry were exonerated through DNA evidence in May 2003 after serving 27 years in their 1976 conviction of the rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl and are suing for undisclosed monetary damages. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)
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"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)