After years of fighting a murder conviction relying on dubious evidence, Eddie Lee Howard of Mississippi, who spent more than quarter of a century behind bars, has had his case dismissed, reports the New York Times. Howard, 67, had remained on death row even though his conviction was based on little more than bite marks on a murder victim, which were presented as evidence at his trial by an expert whose testimony has been called into question. Howard’s conviction for capital murder was overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court last year, and he was released in December. Last week, a judge approved a prosecutor’s motion to dismiss the case.
“I agree with the Supreme Court that bite mark evidence has come under important scrutiny,” said Lowndes County District Attorney Scott Colom. “Besides that evidence, there was nothing else putting Mr. Howard at the scene of the murder.” Howard was convicted in the 1992 killing of Georgia Kemp, 84, who was found dead in her home. An autopsy found that she died from two stab wounds and had injuries consistent with rape but no visible bite marks. The testimony on bite marks came from Dr. Michael West, a Mississippi dentist who was widely sought by prosecutors in the 1980s and 1990s. He said bite marks on Kemp’s body, which he had found using ultraviolet light, matched Howard’s teeth. Lawyers for Howard argued that bite marks were not a reliable form of forensic evidence. Bite-mark evidence has played a role in hundreds of cases. Its use in the 1979 trial of Ted Bundy put it into the public spotlight. The method has been criticized by experts who see it as ineffective. At least 26 people have been wrongfully convicted as a result of bite-mark evidence, says the Innocence Project.