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Man released after spending 28 years in prison for wrongful conviction

Associated Press Tuesday, 13 October 2015, 09:37 Last update: about 9 years ago

A man imprisoned for 28 years for the 1987 slayings of two people in Dallas was released Monday after his conviction based on now-discredited bite-mark analysis was overturned.

Steven Mark Chaney was sentenced to life in prison after a dentist told a Dallas County jury in 1989 there was a 1 in a million chance that someone other than Chaney made bite marks found on John Sweek's body. The dentist now says he was wrong.

State District Judge Dominique Collins overturned Chaney's conviction after receiving a joint request from Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk, The Innocence Project and the Dallas County Public Defender's Office. Chaney, 59, will remain free while the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reviews the findings.

"I could sit and recount all the wrongs," Chaney told reporters after Monday's hearing. "The loss of my oldest stepson, my oldest grandchild two year ago, but this is a time for rejoicing and not recounting."

At least one juror after Chaney's trial said the bite evidence convinced her he was guilty, despite testimony from nine witnesses who said they had spent time with him the day of the slayings and that he couldn't have been at John and Sally Sweek's home when they were killed.

In recent years, forensic scientists have raised doubts about the reliability of bite mark evidence. In 2009, the National Academy of Sciences published a report that concluded there was insufficient scientific basis to conclusively match bite marks. The Texas Forensic Science Commission is reviewing cases in which bite analysis contributed to a conviction to determine whether they warrant further investigation.

The defense lawyers also allege that prosecutors knowingly presented false evidence that blood had been found on the bottom of Chaney's tennis shoe. They say prosecutors withheld notes from another expert who said there was no blood on Chaney's shoes.

They also say prosecutors elicited false testimony from a co-worker of Chaney's, who initially told police that Chaney had asked him to be a "witness" to tell authorities that he had last been at the victims' home a week before the killings. But at trial, the co-worker told the jury that Chaney had asked him to be an "alibi" witness.

Chaney's attorneys have filed court papers saying new evidence establishes he is innocent. The district attorney's office has taken no position yet on whether he is innocent but concluded he did not receive a fair trial.

"We're confident that when the reinvestigation is complete, the district attorney's office will be in a position to formally agree that he is innocent of this crime," said Julie Less, exoneration attorney for the Dallas County Public Defender's Office, in a statement.

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