A man who spent more than 38 years in prison for a murder he did not commit has been freed after DNA evidence pointed to another – now dead – suspect.
Maurice Hastings, now 69, was convicted of the 1983 murder of Roberta Wydermyer, who was killed by a single gunshot to the head. Her body was found in the boot of her vehicle.
Mr Hastings was originally tried for special circumstance murder with the district attorney’s office seeking the death penalty but the jury at the time was unable to come to a verdict.
He was tried again and was convicted of murder, robbery and sexual assault, with a jury sentencing him in 1988 to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
He was also convicted of two attempted murders, of Ms Wydermyer’s husband and his friend, according to NBC4, despite no physical evidence ever linking Mr Hastings to the original crime in Inglewood, Los Angeles.
Before his release from a prison in California, Mr Hastings maintained his innocence for almost four decades.
“What has happened to Mr Hastings is a terrible injustice,” district attorney George Gascón said in a statement.
“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.”
Mr Hastings looked emotional as his conviction was overturned by the court.
Semen found in victim’s mouth was not his
At the time of the victim’s autopsy, the coroner conducted a sexual assault examination and semen was found in the victim’s mouth.
Mr Hastings sought DNA testing in 2000 but the district attorney’s office denied the request.
He then submitted a claim of innocence to the district attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit last year and DNA testing last June found that the semen was not his.
Instead, it matched with a person convicted of the armed kidnapping of a female victim who was placed in the boot of a vehicle and the kidnap, rape and forcing of a sex act on a young woman.
That suspect, whose name was not released, was sentenced to 56 years in prison for those crimes and is now dead.
The district attorney’s office said it was working with police to further investigate the involvement of the deceased person in the case.
“I prayed for many years that this day would come,” the Los Angeles Innocence Project reported Mr Hastings as saying after his conviction was overturned.