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AG Miyares uses new law to help an innocent Virginian

Jason Miyares
Steve Helber
FILE - Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares speaks to the crowd during an inaugural celebration on Jan. 15, 2022, in Richmond, Va.

Virginia's attorney general is using a new law to help free an innocent man from prison.

Until recently, defendants serving prison sentences had to be very careful when they tried to prove their innocence to a court. Virginia law gave them only one shot, and if they failed they could not get another one. That's what happened in a case involving a man accused of sexually assaulting his sons, who had an unsuccessful attempt to prove his innocence back in 2010.

Now, Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares is taking advantage of a new law that allows that man to take a second bite at the apple, and this time winning his freedom. Virginia legal expert Rich Kelsey says courts get better when science gets better.

"How they evaluated pediatric standards at the time is completely different than how they're evaluated now, which played a role in this new evidence," Kelsey explains. "And so I think the idea here is as science gets better, we should be prepared to open up these cases to make sure that in fact justice is done."

Brad Haywood at Justice Forward Virginia says the Republican attorney general deserves credit for coming to the aid of an innocent man.

"It is good to see somebody like AG Miyares, who has never been known to be an ally of criminal justice reform, to embrace a statute that was created to promote justice and promote reform," Haywood says.

In a written statement, Miyares says that the successful writ of actual innocence in this case demonstrates that Virginia's system is working as envisioned.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.