A California judge issued a rare ruling Wednesday that cleared a man who spent nearly four decades in prison for a rape and murder he didn’t commit after DNA tests pointed to another suspect.
Maurice Hastings was found factually innocent by a judge in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Hastings was cleared after LA County prosecutors — from the same office that charged him and initially sought the death penalty against him in the 1983 case — asked the judge to clear the 69-year-old man.
“You deserve to hear in a public courtroom that you, in fact, were not guilty of the crime,” Martha Carrillo, deputy in charge of the DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit, told the court on Wednesday. “And with that request to the court comes an apology, a long overdue apology.”
In an editorial, the Los Angeles Times said the finding is rare.
“For Hastings, the ruling is an exoneration with exclamation points,” the Times wrote. “For the Los Angeles County criminal justice system, it is a reminder of an enduring stain that may never be washed off.”
District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement this week that Hastings survived a nightmare. He spent nearly four decades in prison, exhausting every avenue to prove his innocence while being repeatedly denied.
He was wrongfully accused of killing Roberta Wydermyer. She had been sexually assaulted and shot in the head. Authorities found her body in the trunk of her car in Inglewood, Calif.
Hastings was charged with a special circumstance murder, and prosecutors sought the death penalty. After the first jury deadlocked, Hastings was retried. He was sentenced in 1988 to life in state prison without the possibility of parole.
Hastings spent over 38 years in state prison. He maintained his innocence all along.
The Los Angeles Innocence Project, which took up his case, said no physical evidence linked him to the murder, and numerous witnesses attested to his whereabouts during the crime.
Over the last few decades, he repeatedly sought DNA testing that proved his innocence.
“I have been incarcerated for over fifteen years for a murder that I did not commit,” he wrote to the District Attorney’s Office in 2000. “The most compelling of the evidence that has not as of yet been examined is the DNA evidence which will conclusively show that I was not the person involved with the deceased at the time of the crime.”
Prosecutors denied his request.
Only last summer, after he submitted a new claim of innocence with the DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit, did authorities conduct DNA tests.
Tests from semen on an oral swab from the victim were linked to a known sex offender, who died in prison in 2020 while serving a sentence for kidnapping and rape, the Innocence Project said.
“I prayed for many years that this day would come,” the Associated Press quoted Hastings as saying. “I am not pointing fingers. I am not standing up here a bitter man, but I just want to enjoy my life now while I have it.”
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