Los Angeles County prosecutors said they plan to ask a judge on Wednesday to clear a man who spent nearly four decades in prison for a brutal rape and murder he didn’t commit after DNA tests pointed to another suspect.
The LA County District Attorney’s Office said Tuesday that Maurice Hastings should be declared factually innocent, four months after DNA cleared him of the 1983 rape and murder of a woman whose body was found shot in the head in the trunk of her car in the LA suburb of Inglewood, Calif.
“Maurice Hastings survived a nightmare,” District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement. “He spent nearly four decades in prison, exhausting every avenue to prove his innocence while being repeatedly denied. But Mr. Hastings has remained steadfast and faithful that one day he would hear a judge proclaim his innocence. We hope tomorrow is that day.”
He was accused of killing Roberta Wydermyer, whose body was found in the trunk of her vehicle. She died from a gunshot wound to the head and had been sexually assaulted.
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 he said would prove 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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