Man wrongly convicted of Inglewood murder freed after 38 years by DNA evidence
A 69-year-old man has been freed after spending more than 38 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office announced Friday.
Maurice Hastings was convicted in 1988 of murdering Roberta Wydermyer of Inglewood, along with two other attempted murders. His conviction and life sentence without parole were vacated on Oct. 20 during a court hearing requested by Hasting’s attorneys, who are with the Los Angeles Innocence Project at Cal State L.A.
Hastings has maintained his innocence since his arrest.
“What has happened to Mr. Hastings is a terrible injustice,” Dist. Atty. 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.”
In video of this month’s court hearing released by the district attorney’s office, Hastings can be seen listening as his attorneys asked Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan to erase his conviction and the resulting punishment. As the judge spoke the words that freed him, an emotional but calm Hastings closed this eyes in relief.
“I agree with your conclusions,” Ryan told Hastings’ attorneys. “The conviction and sentence are recalled, vacated and set aside.”
In 1983, Wydermyer, 30, was making a late-night 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 had seen someone driving her stolen car.
Hastings was also convicted of attempting to kill Wydermyer’s husband and his friend.
Hastings’ first trial ended in a deadlocked jury. The second trial lasted four months and included more than 100 witnesses and nearly 300 exhibits. That jury deliberated for two weeks before convicting him of murder.
During the autopsy of Wydermyer’s body, the coroner conducted a sexual assault examination and detected semen in her mouth. Hastings sought a DNA test in 2000, but his request was denied by the district attorney’s office.
Hastings finally got a DNA test in June after submitting a claim of innocence to the D.A.’s Conviction Integrity Unit last year. That test determined the semen recovered during the autopsy was not from Hastings.
It was linked to someone else, a man who had been convicted of kidnapping another woman and placing her in the trunk of a vehicle. The man was also convicted of raping and kidnapping another young woman. He was sentenced to 56 years in prison and died in 2020.
His name was not released by the district attorney’s office, but officials there said investigators are working with police to better understand his role in Wydermyer’s assault and murder.
After his release, Hastings focused on the future instead of the past.
“I prayed many years that this day would come to pass,” he said at a news conference. “I’m not pointing fingers. I’m not standing up here a bitter man. But I just want to enjoy my life while I have it, and I just want to move forward.”
Hastings thanked his attorneys with the L.A. Innocence Project and others who supported him, including his mother, who died in June.
“She was not here to see this day, but I believe she’s looking down on us now,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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