A man who spent more than 38 years behind bars for a 1983 murder and two attempted murders has been released from a California prison after long-untested DNA evidence pointed to a different person, the Los Angeles County district attorney said Friday.
The conviction of Maurice Hastings, 69, and a life sentence were vacated during an Oct. 20 court hearing at the request of prosecutors and his lawyers from the Los Angeles Innocence Project at California State University, Los Angeles.
“I prayed for many years that this day would come,” Hastings said at a news conference Friday, adding: “I am not pointing fingers; I am not standing up here a bitter man, but I just want to enjoy my life now while I have it.”
“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.”
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 Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood.
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.
According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Hastings was tied to the killing by an investigator for controversial Deputy District Attorney Robert Martin.
That investigator secured testimony from a Pittsburgh jeweler who claimed Hastings had pawned a “unique diamond pendant like one owned by murder victim Roberta Wydermyer,” the Times wrote.
Hastings has maintained he was innocent since the time of 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 statement said.
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 last year and DNA testing last June found that the semen was not his.
The DNA profile was put into a state database this month and was matched to a person who was convicted of an armed kidnapping in which a female victim was placed in a vehicle’s trunk as well as the forced oral copulation of a woman.
That suspect, whose name was not released, died in prison in 2020.
The district attorney’s office said it is working with police to further investigate the involvement of the dead person in the case.