Burkeville, Va. - Like a scene out of a movie, Keith Harward opened the door of the Nottoway Correction Center on Friday, and walked out a free man. Haward has spent the last 33 years of his life serving time for a murder and rape he did not commit.
“It hasn’t really hit me. I explained to them earlier, it’s not real," Harward told reporters outside of the prison, shortly after his release.
In 1986, Harward was convicted of murdering a Newport News man and raping his wife in their home.
After exhausting nearly all of his options, Harward heard about the Innocence Project, and wrote to them in 2006.
"I would tell people my story...there are no fingerprints, no eyewitnesses, none of that stuff," said Harward. "So I just wrote them a letter, and said, 'here is the deal'.
"Several years later, it got pulled out of a file, and off it went. These are the kind of people you want in the justice system," he said, gesturing to his team of attorneys and family members standing beside him at the media conference.
Earlier this week, Virginia's Attorney General Mark Herring said DNA testing, which was not available at the time the case went to trail, exonerated the Greensboro man.
Harward says he does not blame the victims in this case, and he does not blame the man police say was actually responsible.
According to Herring, DNA testing not only proved Harward's innocence, but officials believe another sailor, Jerry Crotty, was the man responsible for the crimes.
Crotty died in an Ohio prison in 2006, while serving charges for abduction.
“It is a bad thing that he did what he did," said Harward, "but he did not put me in prison. I mean, he could have come forward, but criminals do not do that. Those criminals in Newport News put me in prison.”
Harward says his parents, who always fought for him, died before they could see him a free man.
"That's the worst part about this, is my parents," said Harward, starting to tear up. "It killed them. It devastated them, the trial. Like my brother said, he has never seen my father cry either. It broke his heart. They knew.
"I'll never get that back. I could not go to their funeral, because of those criminals in Newport News, and somebody needs to pay for this."
Harward was first imprisoned when he was 26 years old. He spent the years of his life, when most people are building their careers or families, behind bars. Harward was never married, and has no children.
Wearing glasses from the 1980s, Harward told reporters he has never used a cell phone. He says he plans on having his brother's grand-kids teach him how to use a computer.
When asked about what he is looking forward to the most, Harward had an immediate response for reporters: "I want to try and find me some fried oysters as soon as I can," he said to the crowd.
The Virginia Supreme Court granted Harward a Writ of Actual Innocence Thursday.