August 22, 2016

“Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth.” ~ Buddha. Yet for Keith Hayward, who spent 33 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, the truth took a very long time to shine through.

Earlier this year, Hayward was released from prison following thorough legal work by attorney Olga Akselrod and her team at The Innocence Project, and diligent investigative reporting by Frank Green for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Green – an old friend of mine – has been covering criminal justice for more than three decades and is the 2016 Virginia Press Association Journalist of the Year. This story proves beyond a reasonable doubt that it’s never too late to uncover the truth.

The Truth

Hayward, who maintained his innocence from the beginning, was wrongly convicted based on expert testimony regarding forensic evidence of matching dental imprints, among other errors and mistakes. As it turns out, bite-mark evaluation is now determined to be inconclusive as evidence, raising the possibility that there have likely been many wrongful convictions. Valuable DNA evidence proved Hayward was innocent. Green’s investigative reporting kept the heat on the topic and Akselrod’s team worked with the State’s Attorney General to secure Hayward’s release.

Soon after his release, Hayward, along with Akselrod and Green, participated in a Richmond Times-Dispatch “Public Square.” I followed the coverage and was moved by their story.

The Impact

33 years is a very long time to wait, but it reminds us that it is never too late to uncover the truth. And in Hayward’s case, the truth not only saved him, but will also hopefully lead to the discovery of other mistakes.

But it just instills the fact that just because somebody’s in prison, doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be there or be there as long as they are… And maybe in some way some light can be shown on it. ~ Keith Hayward*

I like telling important, good stories. And these are the kinds of cases that can really lend themselves to improving our justice system. ~ Frank Green*

The Apology

This story also proves it’s never too late for an apology. While the prosecutor, judge and lead detective from Hayward’s case are all deceased, the Attorney General at the time of his release called to apologize to Hayward. And Mark Ailsworth, who was a young attorney at the time of Hayward’s trial apologized. Ailsworth and his peers questioned the legitimacy of the evidence and whether or not it was admissible, but did not speak out at the time.

My great regret — and I will offer you an apology for this — is that all we did was talk about it. We didn’t act on it. And for that, as an officer of the court and as a member of the bar, I’m very, very sorry for that. Because we could have taken action, and we didn’t do it. We just talked about it. ~ Mark Ailsworth*

*Each of the quotes were originally printed in The Richmond Times-Dispatch transcript from the Public Square hosted on May 24, 2016. To read the full interview, please click here.