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Crime

Mississippi man is free after 26 years on death row

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Eddie Lee Howard Jr. (Photo source: MDOC)

A Mississippi man is free after spending 26 years on death row for a murder and rape he did not commit.

Eddie Lee Howard was fully exonerated Friday after first being sentenced in 1994 for the murder of an 84-year-old Columbus, Mississippi, woman. Howard represented himself in that original trial, which was overturned in 1997.

On Aug. 31, 2020, the Mississippi Supreme Court vacated Howard’s second, 2000 conviction and death sentence, recognizing that his case rested on the debunked technique of bite mark comparison. As the Court noted, an “individual perpetrator cannot be reliably identified through bite mark comparison,” yet bite mark comparison was “the State’s most important evidence at Howard’s trial.” The ruling moved Howard off death row to await a new trial.

The forensic opinion regarding bite marks, powerful alibi witnesses, along with DNA testing of crime scene evidence, including blood and DNA from the murder weapon, all excluded Howard, proving his innocence.

Columbus District Attorney Scott Colom studied the Supreme Court decision and thoroughly reviewed and reinvestigated the evidence. Monday, he confirmed his decision not to retry the case.

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.

In a statement, Howard thanked those who helped free him.

“I want to say many thanks to the many people who are responsible for helping to make my dream of freedom a reality,” Howard said. “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.”

Ronni Mott contributed to this story.

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