A man who spent more than 38 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit was declared innocent by a Los Angeles judge on Wednesday.
Maurice Hastings was released from prison in 2022 after DNA evidence, which had previously gone untested, pointed to a different suspect, CBS News reports.
The judge overturned Hastings’ conviction in October upon the request of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and his attorneys from the Los Angeles Innocence Project.
Prosecutors and Hastings’ attorneys returned to court to ask Judge William C. Ryan to declare Hastings innocent of the murder, which took place 40 years ago.
Hastings was declared what’s referred to as “factually innocent” by the judge, which means the evidence proves 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.” Gascón says the decision would exonerate Hastings and open the door for him to pursue potential relief for his wrongful conviction.
According to authorities, the victim in the case, Roberta Wydermyer, was sexually assaulted and killed by a single gunshot to the head. Her body was discovered in the trunk of her car just outside of Los Angeles in Inglewood.
Hastings was charged and the district attorney’s office sought the death penalty, but the jury deadlocked. In 1988 a second jury convicted Hastings and sentenced him to life in prison without parole. From the time of his arrest, Hastings maintained he was innocent.
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 requested DNA testing in 2000, but the DA’s office denied 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 semen found wasn’t his.
At the time of his release from prison last October, Hastings, who was 69 years old, told reporters that he had prayed for that day to come.
“I am not standing up here a bitter man, but I just want to enjoy my life now while I have it,” Hastings said.