After nearly 40 years and a battle with the death penalty, DNA clears the California black man of rape and murder allegations

A black California man has been released from prison after DNA evidence exonerated him of a rape he was convicted of 38 years ago. The latest decision to release him comes more than 20 years after he and his lawyers requested and were denied forensic testing.

On Friday, October 28, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office released a statement announcing that the 1988 murder and rape conviction of Maurice Hastings had been vacated.

The 69-year-old man was serving a sentence for the 1983 murder of 30-year-old Roberta Wydermyer and two attempted murders. On the night of her untimely death, the young woman was out on a late-night shopping spree when she disappeared.

Her body was discovered in the trunk of her vehicle in Inglewood, a suburb of Los Angeles, where it was determined she had suffered a single shot in the head and had been sexually assaulted. At the time, a coroner conducted an examination of her body, “swabs from various parts of the body, including an oral swab that showed sperm.”

Hastings was arrested months after the murder and charged with “murder in exceptional circumstances” and prosecutors “sought the ultimate death penalty”.

Two court hearings took place. The first trial with a hung jury in 1986. At his second trial in 1988, Hastings was convicted and sentenced in 1988 to life in state prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors originally requested the death penalty.

Hastings has always maintained his innocence and in 2000 requested DNA tests to prove his innocence in court.

In 2021, he filed another complaint of innocence with the district attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which took his claim seriously. In June 2022, the tests confirmed what Hasting has been saying all along. The semen sample captured on the swab taken from the victim’s mouth did not match him, but did match another man in the state’s combined DNA index system who “had been involved in and convicted of an armed kidnapping in which he killed his female victim.” into a trunk of a vehicle and the kidnapping, rape and violent oral copulation of a young woman, for which he was sentenced to 56 years in prison.”

Hastings was released from jail Thursday, October 20, after his attorneys, the Los Angeles Innocence Project in Cal State LA, filed for his conviction to be vacated after seeing the new evidence. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan immediately granted his request.

“We no longer have confidence in the prosecution of the case against Mr. Hastings,” Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón said. “You are a free man today because of your perseverance.”

“The system failed you. The system has failed the victims,” the prosecutor said.

Gascón’s office is now working with the Inglewood Police Department to piece together the new case involving the current suspect in Wydermyer’s murder.

Paula Mitchell, who directs the Los Angeles Innocence Project, said: “Had the jury handed down the death penalty instead of life without the possibility of parole, Mr. Hastings might not have lived to see that day.”

“The possibility that an innocent person could be executed is real,” Mitchell continued. “Our criminal justice system simply has too much room for error, as this case demonstrates.”

Gascón declared: “What happened to Mr Hastings is a terrible injustice. The justice system is not perfect and when we learn of new evidence that causes us to lose confidence in a conviction, it is our duty to act quickly.”

“I have prayed for many years that this day would come,” Hastings shared on the LA Innocence Project Instagram page. “I’m just looking forward to moving forward. I don’t point the finger; I’m not standing up here a bitter man, but I want to enjoy my life now while I have it.”

According to the LAist, after his release, Hastings connected with his family members and his attorneys and went out to dinner. On the menu for the first meal? Lobster.

I haven’t had that for a long time,” said the freedman. After nearly 40 years and a battle with the death penalty, DNA clears the California black man of rape and murder allegations

James Brien

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