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
Kevin Richardson (L), one of the wrongly convicted "Central Park Five", takes a break with his sister Crystal Cuffee during a news conference to announce the payout for the case at City Hall in New York June 27, 2014. New York City's chief fiscal officer on Thursday signed off on a settlement that would end the decade-long civil rights lawsuit brought by five men wrongfully convicted of raping a jogger in Central Park in 1989. The size of the settlement has not been publicly disclosed but a person familiar with the matter previously told Reuters it is approximately $40 million. The figure would appear to make it the largest wrongful conviction settlement in New York history. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW POLITICS SOCIETY)
Former San Quentin death row inmate Chol Soo Lee (L) and veteran investigative journalist K.W. Lee (unrelated) visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Tomb at the MLK Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia September 22, 2007. Chol Soo Lee, who was wrongfully convicted for a 1973 San Francisco murder case and spent ten years in prison until his release in 1983, died on December 2, 2014 after complications related to surgery at age 62, according to friends. Lee's story was made into a 1989 film, True Believer. Picture taken on September 22, 2007. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW OBITUARY)
John Nolley holds one of his grandchildren, whom he had never seen, after the hearing in Fort Worth, Texas, on May 17, 2016. His sons Bryson Nolley, left, and Tavon Seaton, right, look on. (Paul Moseley/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - March 1: Ricky Jackson stands for a portrait in his apartment on March 1, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. Jackson, America's longest-serving wrongfully convicted prisoner, served 39 years and was released through the help of the Ohio Innocence Project. (Photo by Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images)
Jason Strong works out at his home in rural Tennessee on Monday, Sept. 21, 2015. Strong was wrongfully convicted of the death of Mary Kate Sunderlin and was sentenced to 46 years in prison. He spent 15 years in prison but was freed in May of 2015 after evidence cleared him of the crime. (Stacey Wescott/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 27: Kevin Richardson, one of the five men wrongfully convicted of raping a woman in Central Park in 1989, wipes his brow while speaking at a press conference on city halls' steps after it was announced that the men, known as the 'Central Park Five,' had settled with New York City for approximately $40 million dollars on June 27, 2014 in New York City. All five men spent time in jail, until their convictions were overturned in 2002 after being proven innocent. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 11: Yusef Salaam (left) testifies against the death penalty at a hearing before the New York State Assembly at Pace University as his mother, Sharonne Salaam, looks on. Salaam, who was wrongfully convicted of beating and raping a female jogger in Central Park in 1989, spent 15 years in prison. He was released when the real assailant confessed to the crime. (Photo by Debbie Egan-Chin/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)
Free after 19 years in state prison, Harold Hall, photographed Friday at back of criminal courts building, near basement exit hes was released from without fanfare earlier this week. Hall always believed his freedom would come. He just didn't realize would spend half his life behind bars before it did. Hall, wrongfully convicted of a 1985 murder, walked free this week after Los Angeles prosecutors decided not to retry him. A federal appellate court granted him a new trial last year after ruling that Hall's due process rights were denied because police and prosecutors relied on a dubious confession and a jailhouse informant. (Photo by Spencer Weiner/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
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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)