A Black man who spent 26 years in prison on charges of raping and killing an 84-year-old white woman from Mississippi, was exonerated on Monday after new evidence ruled out his involvement in the crimes.
Eddie Lee Howard, 67, was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of Georgia Kemp several times, and was first sentenced to death in 1994, according to the Innocence Project, which represented him.
The conviction of Mr Howard was based on the now discredited technique of bite mark comparison through which a doctor certified that the mark on Ms Kemp’s body matched Mr Howard’s teeth.
However, new forensic evidence, including the DNA testing of the crime scene and alibi witnesses excluded Mr Howard. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled on 27 August, 2020, that an “individual perpetrator cannot be reliably identified through bite mark comparison” and ordered a new trial.
Mr Howard was removed from the death row in December and released on Monday after prosecutors dropped the murder charge against him.
Confirming his release, District Attorney Scott Colom told The Associated Press that there was not enough evidence to convict Howard "beyond a reasonable doubt."
"My ethical and legal responsibility requires that I dismiss the case," he said.
Vanessa Potkin, one of Mr Howard’s Innocence Project attorneys, said: “Mr. Howard was sentenced to death based on unfounded forensics with no physical evidence or witnesses to the crime.”
"I want to say many thanks to the many people who are responsible for helping to make my dream of freedom a reality," Mr Howard said in a statement quoted by the Innocence Project.
"I thank you with all my heart, because without your hard work on my behalf, I would still be confined in that terrible place called the Mississippi Department of Corrections, on death row, waiting to be executed," he said.
According to the organisation, Mr Howard’s case is by no means isolated and it marks the 28th exoneration in the United States based on bite mark comparison.