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Bill to pay $1.55M to former sailor wrongfully convicted in 1982 slaying

Keith Allen Harward, center right, walks with the Innocence Project's, from left, Dana Delger, Chris Fabricant, and Olga Akselrod, as he is released from Nottoway Correctional Facility in Burkeville, Va., Friday, April 9, 2016. Harward was released Friday after the Virginia Supreme Court agreed that DNA evidence proves he's innocent of the 1982 killing of Jesse Perron and the rape of his wife in Newport News. (Daniel Sangjib Min/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

DANIEL SANGJIB MIN/RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH VIA AP

By PETER DUJARDIN | Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) (Tribune News Service) | Published: February 20, 2017

Legislation is sailing through the General Assembly this week to compensate a former U.S. Navy sailor who served more than three decades behind bars in a Newport News slaying that he didn't commit.

Two separate but identical bills to pay Keith Allen Harward $1.55 million have so far carried unanimously through all committees and floor votes, with the Senate version fully passing on Wednesday and the House of Delegates' version likely to get a final vote by week's end.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe is expected to sign the legislation into law.

"This is clearly a wrong that needs to be righted," said Del. Richard C. "Rip" Sullivan Jr., D-Arlington, the bill's chief sponsor in the House. "We can't give him back his 33 years. Money can't accomplish giving him back what amounts to most of his adult life. But it is the process that the General Assembly has put in place to try to right these wrongs."

Harward was 27 years old, stationed on an aircraft carrier being completed at Newport News Shipbuilding, when he was first arrested in the brutal 1982 rape and murder at a house near the shipyard. Though he was sentenced to life behind bars, he walked out of a state prison in Burkeville last April a free 60-year-old man.

He was convicted largely on the basis of bite mark evidence — in which a person's dental records are matched against the marks on the victim. But such evidence has been discredited in recent years. In early 2016, new DNA testing proved that another man was actually responsible for the crime, leading to Harward's complete exoneration.

Under a state statute, those who were wrongfully convicted can get 90 percent of the state's per capita income — as determined by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis — for each year locked up, so long as lawmakers agree to the payment.

With Virginia's per capita income now $52,136, that translates into $1.55 million for Harward's 33 years lost.

Under the statute, 20 percent of the total — or $309,688 in this case — will be paid in a lump cash sum. The rest, or $1.24 million, will be used to purchase a state annuity in Harward's name to make regular payments to him for a fixed term, likely about 20 years. (Harward will also qualify for $10,000 in education credits with the Virginia Community College system, though he's unlikely to use that because he's now living in North Carolina.)

As a condition of taking the deal, Harward must "release all claims" regarding the 1983 conviction. In other words, he must sign an agreement not to sue Newport News police or prosecutors, state forensics examiners or any other entity involved.

©2017 the Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
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