On Wednesday, a court in Los Angeles pronounced a man innocent after he had spent more than 38 years in prison for a murder he did not commit in 1983.
Maurice Hastings was released from prison last year after long-untested Genetic evidence led to a new culprit. At the request of prosecutors from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and his lawyers from the Los Angeles Innocence Project, the judge dismissed Hastings’ conviction in October.
Prosecutors and Hastings’ attorneys returned to court to beg Judge William C. Ryan to go the extra mile and pronounce Hastings innocent of the murder 40 years ago.
Hastings was declared “factually innocent” by the judge on Wednesday, which indicates that the evidence establishes definitely that he did not 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.”
District Attorney George Gascón said Hastings “survived a nightmare.”
“He spent nearly four decades in prison exhausting every avenue to prove his innocence while being repeatedly denied,” Gascón said in a statement. “But Mr. Hastings has remained steadfast and faithful that one day he would hear a judge proclaim his innocence.”
According to Gascón, the ruling will clear Hastings’ name and allow him to seek legal remedy in connection with his erroneous conviction.
According to authorities, the victim in the case, Roberta Wydermyer, was sexually raped and died by a single gunshot to the head. Her body was discovered in the trunk of her car in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood.
Hastings was charged with murder under unusual circumstances, and the district attorney’s office sought the death penalty, but the jury was deadlocked. He was convicted by a second jury and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release in 1988.
Hastings maintained he was innocent since his arrest.
The coroner conducted a sexual assault examination during the victim’s autopsy, and semen was detected in an oral swab, according to the district attorney’s office in October.
Hastings requested DNA testing in 2000, but the DA’s office declined the request at the time. Hastings filed an innocence claim with the District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit in 2021, and DNA testing last June revealed that the sperm was not his.
The DNA profile was entered into a state database and matched to a person convicted of armed kidnapping and forced copulation of a female victim placed in the trunk of a vehicle. Prosecutors claimed the suspect, Kenneth Packnett, died in prison in 2020.
Hastings, who was 69 years old when he was released from prison last October, told reporters at the time that he had prayed for his release.
“I am not standing up here a bitter man, but I just want to enjoy my life now while I have it,” Hastings said.