Maurice Hastings spent nearly four decades in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of a 1983 murder. On Wednesday, a Los Angeles judge declared the Black man innocent after DNA evidence linked the murder to another suspect, The Associated Press reported.
Hastings became a free man last year after the DNA evidence, which was not tested for several years, cleared him of the murder. The judge vacated his conviction in October after Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office prosecutors and lawyers with the Los Angeles Innocence Project filed a request. The judge eventually declared Hastings innocent after his lawyers and prosecutors came back to the court to file that request.
The victim Hastings was wrongfully accused of killing was identified as Roberta Wydermyer. Authorities said she was sexually assaulted and fatally shot, adding that her body was left in her car boot in Inglewood.
Authorities brought a special-circumstance murder charge against Hastings after he was arrested in connection with the killing. The district attorney’s office also initially wanted Hastings to be sentenced to death, but his trial resulted in a hung jury. He was ultimately sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1988 after a second jury found him guilty. But Hastings had always said he was innocent.
Following Wydermyer’s murder, a sexual assault examination that was performed on her during autopsy resulted in semen being found in an oral swab, the district attorney’s office revealed in October, per The Associated Press.
And though Hastings requested DNA testing in 2000, the DA’s office did not approve it. In 2021, Hastings filed a claim of innocence with the DA’s Conviction Integrity Unit. A DNA test that was subsequently conducted in June last year matched the semen to a different suspect.
Prosecutors said that the suspect, identified as Kenneth Packnett, passed away in prison in 2020. Packnett was linked to the murder after the DNA profile was screened in a state database. The suspect had been serving time for armed kidnapping and forced copulation of a woman who was left in the car boot afterward.
The judge declared Hastings as “factually innocent” on Wednesday – meaning the evidence fully shows he was not the killer. “It means a lot. I’m grateful for the judge’s ruling, and the apologies — everything has been wonderful today,” Hastings said in the wake of the declaration, per the Los Angeles Innocence Project. “I’m ready to move on with my life. I’m a happy man today.”
In a statement, District Attorney George Gascón said Hastings, who spent 38 years in prison, “survived a nightmare.” “He spent nearly four decades in prison exhausting every avenue to prove his innocence while being repeatedly denied,” Gascón added. “But Mr. Hastings has remained steadfast and faithful that one day he would hear a judge proclaim his innocence.”
Gascón also said the declaration will allow Hastings to file for possible relief for being wrongfully imprisoned. The Black man was 69 when he was released from prison last year. “I am not standing up here a bitter man, but I just want to enjoy my life now while I have it,” Hastings said at the time.