Tue. May 28th, 2024

After spending nearly 40 years behind bars, a California man has been released from jail after DNA proved he did not rape and kill a woman in 1983.

His release also comes more than 20 years after his initial request to have his DNA tested was denied.

On Friday, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced that Maurice Hastings was freed as his 1988 murder conviction was vacated.

Hastings’ attorneys from the Los Angeles Innocence Project at California State University, Los Angeles asked on Oct. 20 that his conviction be overturned and that he be released right away. The Conviction Integrity Unit also joined the petition, which was later granted by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan.

“I prayed for many years that this day would come,” Hastings, now 69, said, according to the L.A. Innocence Project’s Instagram page. “I am just looking forward to moving forward. 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.”

Following his release, Hastings said, per LAist, that he and his family and lawyers had a celebratory dinner, where he enjoyed lobster.

“I hadn’t had that in quite a long time,” he told the outlet.

“What has happened to Mr. Hastings is a terrible injustice,” L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón said in a release. “The justice system is not perfect, and when we learn of new evidence which causes us to lose confidence in a conviction, it is our obligation to act swiftly.”

Hastings spent more than 38 years in state prison for Roberta Wydermyer’s murder as well as two attempted murders, the D.A.’s office said.

“Roberta’s body was found in the trunk of her vehicle and the cause of death was a single gunshot wound to her head,” it added. “The coroner conducted a sexual assault examination which involved swabbing of various body parts, including an oral swab on which semen was detected.”

Hastings was then officially charged with a special circumstance of murder and the D.A.’s office wanted him to get the death penalty. It later denied Hastings’ petition for DNA testing as evidence to prove he is innocent in 2000.

A deadlocked jury verdict led to a new trial and another jury convicted Hastings before he was sentenced to life in prison in 1988.

“Mr. Hastings submitted a claim of innocence with the District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit last year and in June of this year, the DNA testing found that the semen on the oral swab was not from Mr. Hastings,” Gascón’s office said.

Instead, the DNA belonged to a person “in the database who had engaged in and been convicted of an armed kidnapping where he placed his female victim in a trunk of a vehicle as well as the kidnap, rape, and forcible oral copulation of a young woman for which he was sentenced to 56 years in custody.”

That suspect has since died, however, the D.A.’s office said it’s working closely with the Inglewood Police Department to investigate the case.

“Had the jury imposed a death sentence instead of life without the possibility of parole, Mr. Hastings may not have lived to see this day,” said Paula Mitchell, the head of the Los Angeles Innocence Project, according to LAist. “The possibility that an innocent person could be executed is real. Our criminal justice system simply has too much room for error, as this case demonstrates.”

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By Buffy Gunner

Independent Journalist + Business Owner | Lover of all things true crime. Mantra: Only YOU can be YOU. | Los Angeles Born | buffygunner@illicitdeeds.com