A Los Angeles man who spent 38 years in prison did not commit the murder that had imprisoned him for decades and nearly sent him to death row, a judge ruled.
Maurice Hastings, 69, was released in October after a Los Angeles County Supreme Court judge overturned his conviction and life sentence without parole. On Wednesday, the judge, William C. Ryan, found Hastings “factually innocent” of the 1983 murder of Roberta Wydermyer of Inglewood.
Hastings was acquitted due to DNA evidence that ruled him out as a suspect and instead pointed to a man convicted of raping and murdering another woman. That man, Kenneth Packnett, was sentenced to 56 years in prison and died in 2020, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.
“Maurice Hastings Survived a Nightmare,” Dist. Attention. George Gascón said in a statement. “He spent nearly four decades in prison, exhausting all avenues to prove his innocence while being repeatedly denied. But Mr. Hastings has remained steadfast and faithful that one day he would hear a judge proclaim his innocence.’
Hastings maintained his innocence throughout his time in prison. In 2000, he sought a test of DNA evidence collected from Wydermyer’s body, but the district attorney’s office denied his request.
He finally got a test in June after filing a claim with the agency’s Conviction Integrity Unit. That test determined that the semen recovered during the autopsy was not Hastings’s.
Last year, Hastings was in a men’s prison in Chino when he received a call that he would be released after 38 years.
“I was really overwhelmed. It was quite surreal,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday. “In a way you want it to be true, but then you don’t want to be disappointed. I’m disappointed.
“I had tears. I asked, ‘Could this be it? Could this be the end?’ I was very emotional,” Hastings said at the press conference, where the district attorney’s office announced it would join its attorneys from the Los Angeles Innocence Project in Cal State LA to ask the court to officially clear his name.
Wydermyer, 30, was on an overnight trip to a supermarket when she was robbed, sexually assaulted and shot in the head. Her body was found in the trunk of her vehicle.
Wydermyer’s husband and his friend said they saw someone driving her stolen car.
Hastings’ first trial ended in a deadlocked jury. The second trial lasted four months and involved more than 100 witnesses and nearly 300 exhibits. That jury deliberated for two weeks before convicting him of murder and attempted murder of Wydermyer’s husband and his friend.
He narrowly escaped the death penalty and was instead sentenced in 1988 to life without parole.
Hastings thanked God and the Los Angeles Innocence Project at Tuesday’s press conference at Cal State LA, where he was joined by Gascón. He called the Innocence Project a blessing.
“I know it will bless others who come after me,” he said. “There are many men and women who are probably in my situation. It is important that we can start working on justice in society.”
Gascón told Hastings, “I have spoken to you several times and not once have I seen a spark of anger or hatred. I think that speaks volumes for you as a human being.”
The prosecutor called Hastings merciful and forgiving despite injustice.
“The evidence in this case should have been tested 20 years ago,” Gascón said.