A Black man who wrongfully served 26 years on death row in the killing of a White woman is now free

Eddie Lee Howard finally walked free on January 8, after decades on death row.

(CNN) -- Eddie Lee Howard was wrongfully sentenced to death in 1994. Now, after decades of fighting, he has been exonerated.

Howard, who is Black, was sentenced to death in 1994, after being wrongfully convicted for the murder and rape of 84-year-old Georgia Kemp, who is White, in Columbus, Mississippi, according to the Innocence Project, which represented Howard.

Howard was initially tied to the crime by a doctor who compared bite marks on Kemp's body to Howard's teeth. But in August, the Mississippi Supreme Court recognized that bite-mark comparisons were not enough to tie him to the murder, and stated that "an individual perpetrator cannot be reliably identified through bite-mark comparison."

"After reviewing the record, we conclude that Howard's evidence as to the change in the scientific understanding of the reliability of identification through bite-mark comparisons was almost uncontested. Based on this record, we agree with Howard that a forensic dentist would not be permitted to identify Howard as the biter today as Dr. West did at Howard's trial in 2000," the court wrote in August.

As a result, the case was reversed, rendered and remanded. Howard was released from Mississippi's death row in December, and he was exonerated on Friday, the Innocence Project said.

"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 in a statement. "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."

The United States has some of the highest incarceration rates in the world. By the end of 2019, more than 1.4 million people were incarcerated in the nation, according to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Black Americans are disproportionately affected, and in Mississippi more than half of the prison population is Black, according to a report by the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit criminal justice research organization.

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