SOMERVILLE, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey man imprisoned for nearly two decades for murder had his conviction overturned Monday after a successful challenge to bite-mark evidence.
Gerard Richardson was granted his release on $5,000 bail, though he won't be freed for a few days. He had appealed his conviction in the murder of 19-year-old Monica Reyes, whose body was found in a ditch in Bernards Township in north-central New Jersey in February 1994.
The Somerset County prosecutor's office allowed Richardson's release, even though it has not dismissed the charges against him.
Richardson's attorneys say DNA testing shows a bite mark left on the victim's back is from another man. Prosecutors cited the DNA evidence in their decision to allow the conviction to be reversed.
The bite mark was the primary physical evidence against Richardson at his trial. A prosecution expert testified that the mark came from Richardson, and Richardson also allegedly had threatened Reyes over $90 she owed him over a drug deal.
After years of appeals, a recent court-ordered DNA test requested by the Innocence Project revealed that the mark contained the DNA of a different male who has not been identified.
Bite-mark evidence has been criticized by defense attorneys as unreliable and an example of "junk science." A 2013 analysis by The Associated Press found that at least two dozen men charged with or convicted of rape or murder based on bite-mark evidence since 2000 had been exonerated, including some who had spent more than 10 years in prison. Proponents of the method say it's been used to convict violent criminals such as serial killer Ted Bundy.
Attorney Vanessa Potkin of the Innocence Project, a nonprofit organization that has won reversals in numerous cases using DNA testing, said the unreliability of bite-mark comparisons was revealed at Richardson's trial when prosecution and defense experts couldn't agree on whether the bite mark showed the attacker's upper teeth facing up or down on Reyes' back.
Richardson wouldn't have been eligible for parole until May 2025, according to the state Department of Corrections' online database.
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