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Mississippi judge drops case for man who spent 23 years on death row

Eddie Lee Howard Jr. spent 23 years in prison on a wrongful murder conviction. File Photo courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Corrections
Eddie Lee Howard Jr. spent 23 years in prison on a wrongful murder conviction. File Photo courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Corrections

Jan. 8 (UPI) -- A Mississippi court has dropped the murder charges for a man who spent 23 years on death row for a conviction based on discredited bite-mark evidence.

Eddie Lee Howard Jr., 67, had twice been convicted for the 1992 rape and murder of 87-year-old Georgia Kemp in Lowndes County. His 2000 conviction was based on testimony from dentists who said that marks on Kemp's body matched Howard's teeth.

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A Lowndes County Circuit Court judge signed an order dismissing the case Thursday, more than four months after the Mississippi Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Howard.

Since Howard's original trial, the American Board of Forensic Odontology has revised its guidelines to prohibit dentists from testifying on bite-mark evidence and said such evidence isn't enough to reliably identify a perpetrator.

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The Mississippi Innocence Project, which worked on Howard's case, said he was one of four people convicted of capital murder based on the forensic work of Drs. Steven Hayne and Michael West. One of the others, Levon Brooks, was exonerated after serving several years of a life sentence in 2008.

District Attorney Scott Colom said he had no choice but to seek to dismiss the case after the Mississippi Supreme Court's August ruling.

"After reading the supreme court's opinion, reading the trial transcripts from the two trials, reviewing the investigative files and case files of the case, I decided that we didn't have even remotely close to sufficient evidence to convict Mr. Howard beyond a reasonable doubt," Colom said, according to The Dispatch in Columbus and Starkville, Miss.

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DNA evidence found at the scene of Kemp's death also couldn't be tied to Howard.

Howard was released from prison in December on his own recognizance.

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