Newport News man spent 33 years in prison for wrongful rape conviction, AG says

Posted at 7:19 PM, Apr 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-06 19:19:38-04

RICHMOND, Va - A Virginia man who has spent 33 years in prison for a brutal murder and rape in Newport News is, in fact, innocent, according to Mark Herring, Virginia Attorney General.  Herring has filed a petition for a writ of actual innocence with the Supreme Court of Virginia on behalf of Keith Allen Harward.

In 1983, Harward was convicted on charges stemming from the murder of a young husband and the rape of his wife inside their Newport News home.  Over the past three decades, Harward has maintained he did not commit the crimes.  Recently, Harward's lawyers retested DNA evidence collected at the crime scene using modern techniques that were not available at the time of the crime, according to the AG's office.

"Based on a careful and exhaustive examination of the circumstances, including the DNA testing of evidence recovered at the crime scene, it is clear that Keith Allen Harward is innocent of the crimes for which he has been convicted," Herring said.  "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."

The DNA at the crime scene eliminated Harward as a potential suspect, Herring said.  When that evidence was compared to the National DNA Databank, the DNA was matched to Jerry Crotty, a former a sailor who was stationed in the area in 1982.  Crotty died in prison in Ohio in 2006, according to the AG's office.

Herring said the woman who survived the brutal attack is aware of this development in the case.  Herring said he had a private conversation with her Wednesday, but would not elaborate on what they discussed.

The Supreme Court of Virginia will likely review and rule on the Herrings petition within the next few weeks.  Harward's lawyers will have the opportunity to request a bail hearing in Newport News Circuit Court to get him out of jail pending the Supreme Court's decision.

“I think of my life the past 33 years.  I met my wife, we married, we raised a family," Herring said.  "For Mr. Harward those are years we can’t give him back, but what we can do as a Commonwealth is when we get it wrong we say so, and we act as quickly as we can to try and get his release."