Four decades after a murder for which he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to life without parole, Maurice Hastings is finally a free man.
Roberta Wydermyer was sexually assaulted and fatally shot in 1983 and a police investigation focused on Hastings as the prime suspect. He was later arrested and prosecutors in Los Angeles, California, initially sought the death penalty in the case.
After the first jury resulted in a deadlock, he was later convicted and received a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Throughout the decades since then, he has steadfastly declared his innocence.
In 2000, he requested a DNA test that could have proved his innocence but officials denied it. The Los Angeles Innocence Project at California State University, Los Angeles, subsequently became involved and forensic testing revealed that Wydermyer’s killer was actually another individual who died in 2020 while serving a prison sentence for a different conviction.
Paula Mitchell, the director of the organization, credited those who support the project for helping achieve this and similar outcomes.
“This funding makes it possible to test DNA evidence in wrongful conviction cases with claims of actual innocence,” she said.
Despite losing so many years of his life, Hastings — who was released from prison last year at the age of 69 — is maintaining a positive attitude. He fought to have his record officially cleared, which Judge William Ryan did on Wednesday.
“I’m ready to move on with my life,” Hastings said after the court hearing. “I’m a happy man today.”
He affirmed that he is not bitter and is only focused on enjoying the remainder of his life.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I’m grateful for the judge’s ruling and the apologies. Everything has been wonderful today.”
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon reacted to the development with a statement extolling the wrongfully convicted man’s attitude.
“He spent nearly four decades in prison exhausting every avenue to prove his innocence while being repeatedly denied,” Gascon said. “But Mr. Hastings has remained steadfast and faithful that one day he would hear a judge proclaim his innocence.”
Maurice Hastings, wrongfully convicted of murder in 1983, narrowly escaped the death penalty & spent 38 years in prison, was found factually innocent by Judge Ryan today, on a joint motion submitted by LADA & @innocence_la 🧵 pic.twitter.com/lwNq2Qx9eU
— George Gascón (@LADAOffice) March 2, 2023
Now that Hastings has been declared “factually innocent” of the charges for which he was convicted, he will be able to pursue financial compensation for the years of his life lost serving a sentence he did not deserve.