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Man declared innocent in 1987 murder under Texas 'junk science' law

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals declared a man innocent Wednesday of the murder of a Dallas couple after he spent nearly three decades in prison.

Steven Chaney, 62, was granted relief after being convicted in the 1987 murders of John Sweek and Sally Sweek under Texas' "junk science" law, which allows a court to overturn a conviction if the scientific evidence that led to the verdict has changed or been discredited.

In addition to being declared innocent, Chaney will receive $2.5 million from the state for the wrongful conviction.

"It's the best day of my life," Chaney said. "At least for the past 31 years."

Chaney was originally convicted of the murders based on testimony from two odontologists who said bite marks on John Sweek's left arm matched Chaney's teeth.

The Dallas County district attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit reviewed Chaney's case under the junk science law and concluded he was innocent, as it wouldn't be possible to match bite marks on a person's skin.

Additionally, the court discounted other evidence from the case, including a partial fingerprint and shoe marks matching Chaney that were found in the Sweeks' apartment.

"Each piece of the state's trial evidence is questionable 'or has since been undermined or completely invalidated,'" Judge Barbara Parker Hervey wrote in the decision.

Judge Sharon Keller joined a group of judges in questioning the burden of proving "actual innocence" for future cases under the law.

"Should a convicted person be declared 'actually innocent' merely because the state's case has completely fallen apart?" Keller wrote. "Because applicant has not established his innocence beyond a reasonable doubt, I would not grant relief on his actual innocence claim."

Chaney was named a main suspect in the killings based on an anonymous tip, as he allegedly owed the Sweeks drug money. He argued he was innocent and told investigators he was working the day of the killings and stated he had several witnesses to defend him.

He was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison in a second trial after his first ended in a mistrial.

Chaney was released from prison on bond in October 2015 after winning partial relief.

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