A bill that could become law in Virginia is looking to award a man $1.45 million after he served 33 years in prison for crimes he did not commit, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch.
Keith Allen Harward was convicted of first degree murder of a resident of Newport News, Va., and the rape of the victim’s wife in 1982. He was supposed to serve a life sentence after narrowly escaping the death penalty, according to the Innocence Project.
After his case was investigated by the Innocence Project, Harward walked free in April 2016, but “suffers from numerous painful physical injuries, systemic health conditions and severe mental anguish and emotional distress, and has lost countless opportunities, including the opportunity to marry and have children,” state Del. Richard C. Sullivan Jr., who introduced the bill, told the Dispatch.
Harward was convicted based on bite mark evidence, when two forensic dentists testified that bite marks left on the rape victims matched Harward’s teeth. However, no scientific evidence exists that supports matching bite marks to people’s teeth, according to a report in Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward.
At least 25 people have been wrongly convicted of violent crimes based on bite mark evidence, according to the Innocence Project.
The federal government and 32 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have statutes already in place to compensate for wrongful convictions, but states like Alaska, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island do not, according to the Innocence Project.
People convicted in these states can sue in federal court, but they are not guaranteed compensation, meaning that sometimes, when the court rules against them, they are given nothing to help restart their life after years separated from society. Drew Whitley from Pennsylvania was one such victim who, after 18 years in prison and a failed federal court case, received no compensation for almost two decades behind bars, according to PBS.
Also, legislation for compensation is not perfect, the Innocence Project states. Cases of “insufficient monetary compensation,” and “prohibiting compensation to those deemed to have “contributed” to their wrongful convictions,” both stand in the way of sufficiently reimbursing victims of their wasted time and lives.