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Criminal Justice

After Nearly 40 Years In Prison, A Wrongfully Convicted Man Is Free

A Black man who is bald and wearing glasses and a suit and tie sits in a chair in a conference room setting.
Maurice Hastings was wrongfully convicted of a murder that occurred in 1983. After 38 years in prison, he's finally free.
(Courtesy L.A. District Attorney's Office)
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In 1984, when he was 35 years old, Maurice Hastings was arrested and charged with kidnapping, robbing and murdering Roberta Wydermyer, a young woman from Inglewood.

A jury sentenced Hastings to life without parole. But he didn’t do it — a fact he’d maintained since his arrest. And, after 38 years in prison, he’s finally free.

“I'm not standing up here a bitter man,” Hastings, now 69, said at a news conference on Friday after his release. “I just want to enjoy my life while I have it. And I just want to move forward.”

The Role Of DNA

A DNA test proved Hastings’ innocence.

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For decades, Hastings, now 69, had asked to be tested. With the help of the Los Angeles Innocence Project, which is based at Cal State L.A., he got the test.

The result overturned his conviction.

Hastings was in court to hear the judge's decision. As Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan tells those present that he agrees that the sentence should be set aside, Hastings sat stoically. A video of the Oct. 20 proceedings, shows Hastings in a dark suit and blue tie, closing his eyes, nodding, and biting his lower lip as the judge congratulates him and tells him he will be released in a few days.

The real perpetrator was a convicted sex offender who died in 2020 while serving a sentence for another kidnapping and rape of two other women, according to L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón.

Hastings said of DNA testing: “It's important that we move forward with this technology because this will give people their life back."

Prosecutors Originally Sought The Death Penalty

According to the D.A., Wydermyer's body was "found in the trunk of her vehicle and the cause of death was a single gunshot wound to her head." There was evidence of sexual assault. She was 30 and killed while on a late-night supermarket trip.

Because of those circumstances, prosecutors initially sought the death penalty for Hastings, but after a jury deadlocked the first time around, a second trial led to his life sentence without possibility of parole.

Paula Mitchell, who heads the Los Angeles Innocence Project, said his case shows the dangers of a legal system that allows for the death penalty.

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“Had the jury imposed a death sentence instead of life without the possibility of parole, Mr. Hastings may not have lived to see this day,” Mitchell said. “The possibility that an innocent person could be executed is real. Our criminal justice system simply has too much room for error, as this case demonstrates.”

Since 1989, DNA testing has helped exonerate hundreds of wrongly convicted people.

Hastings said the first thing he did when he got out of prison was have dinner with his family and lawyers — they all had lobster.

"I hadn't had that in quite a long time," he said.

Watch the hearing

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