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Maurice Hastings spent more than 38 years behind bars for a 1983 murder he didn’t commit. On Wednesday, he was officially declared innocent by a judge in Los Angeles.
Hastings was released from prison last year after long-untested DNA evidence pointed to a different suspect.
The judge in October vacated Hastings’ conviction at the request of prosecutors with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and his lawyers from the Los Angeles Innocence Project.
Prosecutors and Hastings’ lawyers returned to court to ask Judge William C. Ryan to take the additional step and declare him innocent of the killing 40 years ago.
CBS News reports the judge’s Wednesday declaration of Hastings as “factually innocent” means the evidence proves conclusively that Hastings didn’t commit the crime.
“It means a lot. I’m grateful for the judge’s ruling, and the apologies — everything has been wonderful today,” Hastings said after the hearing, according to the Los Angeles Innocence Project. “I’m ready to move on with my life. I’m a happy man today.”
DNA testing was denied to Maurice Hastings in 2000
The victim in the case, Roberta Wydermyer, was sexually assaulted and killed by a single gunshot to the head, authorities said. Her body was found in the trunk of her vehicle in the city of Inglewood, near Los Angeles.
Hastings was charged with special-circumstance murder, and the district attorney’s office sought the death penalty, but the jury deadlocked. A second jury convicted him and he was sentenced in 1988 to life in prison without possibility of parole.
Hastings maintained he was innocent since his arrest
At the time of the victim’s autopsy, the coroner conducted a sexual assault examination and semen was detected in an oral swab, the district attorney’s office said in October.
Hastings sought DNA testing in 2000, but at that time, the DA’s office denied the request. Hastings submitted a claim of innocence to the DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit in 2021, and DNA testing last June found that the semen wasn’t his.
The DNA profile was put into a state database and matched to a person who was convicted of an armed kidnapping and forced copulation of a female victim who was placed in a vehicle’s trunk. The suspect, Kenneth Packnett, died in prison in 2020, prosecutors said.
District Attorney George Gascón says the ruling will clear Hastings’ name and pave the way for him to seek possible relief in connection with his wrongful conviction.
When Hastings was freed in October, Gascón said, “The system failed you. The system failed the victims,” according to CBS Los Angeles.
“I am not standing up here a bitter man, but I just want to enjoy my life now while I have it,” Mr. Hastings said.