Man Exonerated for Rape and Murder After Spending 33 Years in Virginia Prison

Virginia's Supreme Court Frees Wrongfully Imprisoned Man
Keith Allen Harward
Virginia Department of Corrections/AP

04/08/2016 AT 04:50 PM EDT

On Friday afternoon, some three decades after he was imprisoned for a murder he steadfastly denied committing, former sailor Keith Allen Harward finally walked through the doors of Virginia's Nottoway Correctional Center as a free man.

The exonerated 59-year-old's lawyer, who spoke to PEOPLE about an hour after Harward's release, says her client had just one request: After years of prison food, he had a hankering for fried oysters.

"Unfortunately, we're far from anywhere that serves fried oysters, so we're just arriving at a restaurant with general American fare," Olga Akselrod, an attorney with the New York-based Innocence Project, tells PEOPLE.

Harward received a life sentence after his conviction for the 1982 killing of Jesse Perron and also for the rape of his wife in Newport News where the sailor's ship had docked.

Harward's conviction was came after two experts testified that his teeth matched bite marks left on Perron's leg.

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On Thursday, the Virginia Supreme Court granted Harward's petition seeking a writ of actual innocence, which was filed when newly developed DNA tests showed that sperm collected at the crime scene was not Harward's, and that his DNA was not at the crime scene either.

"It is absolutely thrilling to see Mr. Harward released after spending 33 years in prison for a crime he didn't perpetrate," Akselrod tells PEOPLE. "While it is a very happy day it is also a very sad day, because he will never get those years of his life back."

Akselrod says her client is denying all interview requests at this time, but may talk about his wrongful imprisonment in the not-so-distant future, "after he's had time to catch up with his family."

The Innocence Project claims that Harward is the 25th wrongful conviction of a person based on bite-mark evidence since 2000.

In addition to wiping his record clear, the state has also removed Harward's name from its sex offender registry.

It was unclear Friday if Harward is planning any civil action against Virginia.
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