On March 6, 1986, Keith Harward was convicted of murder, robbery, burglary and rape despite a strong alibi and many supporting witnesses. A substantial factor in his conviction was expert testimony that compared bite marks on the body of one of the victims with a mold of his teeth.
Since that time, more than 20 individuals have been convicted due to bite mark comparison testimony, despite the fact that the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) have sharply criticized the practice and argued against its scientific validity. In 2016, the Texas Forensic Science Commission recommended a moratorium against the use of bite mark testimony in Texas courts unless and until the comparisons could be scientifically validated.
In April, 2016, Keith Harward was conclusively exonerated by DNA evidence. He spent a total of 33 years in custody for a crime he did not commit.
Mr Harward was chosen as our 2018 Exoneree Fellow. The Center hosted Mr. Harward to tell his unforgettable story and to participate in a conversation about the scientific and legal concerns with bite mark comparison. Keith was joined by several experts: Mary Bush, Associate Professor, SUNY at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine, Peter Bush, Director of the South Campus Instrument Center at the SUNY School of Dental Medicine and Chris Fabricant, Special Counsel and Director of Strategic Litigation at The Innocence Project and Keith’s post-conviction counsel. The discussion explored the “science” behind bite mark comparison, how bitemark comparison became an accepted subject for expert testimony in American criminal courts and why, despite mounting evidence that it is an unscientific and unreliable practice, it is still considered admissible evidence in some jurisdictions.
To learn more about Keith’s experience, here are some interviews with him as his discusses the case and its impact on him, on the victim of the crime and on the community.