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DNA Clears California Man Who Spent 38 Years In Prison For 1983 Rape And Murder

“I prayed for many years that this day would come,” Maurice Hastings told reporters after spending nearly four decades in prison for the 1983 murder and sexual assault of Roberta Wydermyer.

By Dorian Geiger
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A California man who was wrongfully convicted in the 1983 murder and rape of a woman who was found shot to death in the trunk of her vehicle was freed after DNA evidence cleared him.

Maurice Hastings, 69, was freed from prison after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan vacated his conviction on Oct. 20, prosecutors announced Friday. He'd spent 38 years behind bars.

“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.”

Hastings, who was wrongfully convicted in 1988 of Roberta Wydermyer’s sexual assault and murder five years earlier, had maintained his innocence since his arrest decades ago. 

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“I prayed for many years that this day would come to pass,” Hastings told reporters at a press conference on Friday. “And I just give glory to God for that.”

While addressing the media after his prison release, Hastings he couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of disbelief regarding his newfound freedom.

“It seemed surreal,” Hastings added. “I believed it ,but I wasn’t for sure. I thought they was going say, ‘Well, we made a mistake, no.’ I thought they was going to change their mind. I had mixed feelings. Everybody was thinking that I should be overjoyed or happy. I was happy but I said, maybe they might change their mind on me.’ And I’m still coming to [the] conclusion that it’s real now. It’s coming more clear to me being here before you today. It was really hard.”

Maurice Hastings appeared at a press conference

In 1983, Wydermyer’s body was found inside the trunk of her vehicle in Inglewood with a single gunshot wound to her head. Per the District Attorney's press release, a sexual assault examination was conducted on Wydermyer’s corpse and the coroner found semen during an oral swab.

Hastings was later arrested and charged with special circumstance murder. At the time, prosecutors had sought the death penalty against Hastings. During his trial, several witnesses corroborated Hastings' alibi, testifying he’d been at a party in Los Angeles’ Fairfax District at the time of Wydermyer’s killing, according to the Los Angeles Innocence Project at Cal State LA.

Hastings’ first trial ultimately resulted in a mistrial after the first jury on the case ultimately deadlocked. A second panel of jurors later convicted Hastings and he was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

In 2000, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office denied Hastings’ request to use DNA to prove his innocence. However, last year, the office’s Conviction Integrity Unit agreed to review his case after Hastings submitted a claim of innocence.

In June, DNA testing confirmed the semen collected from Wydermyer’s body did not in fact belong to Hastings.

Investigators later matched the DNA evidence to a deceased man who had been convicted of armed kidnapping in which the suspect also placed the female victim in the trunk of a vehicle. Officials say he was sentenced to 56 years in prison following a conviction for the kidnapping, rape and forcible oral copulation of a young woman. 

The man's name wasn’t released by prosecutors. No other information was released by officials. 

Oxygen.com has reached out to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office for comment.

Hastings’ release was celebrated by a number of advocates who had petitioned for his release, arguing that the case against the 69-year-old Compton man was devoid of any circumstantial or physical evidence linking him to Wydermyer’s killing.

“Mr. Hastings has steadfastly maintained his innocence since his arrest in 1984,” Los Angeles Innocence Project Director Paula Mitchell said in a statement. “He has demonstrated immense resilience and grace in the face of this horrific and manifest injustice. After so much has been taken from him, Mr. Hastings can now clear his name and finally walk free.”

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