Innocent Man Is Sent to Prison for a Crime He Did NOT Commit – 40 Years Later, He’s Alive to Tell His Story
Nearly 40 years later, his wrongful conviction is overturned and he’s released from prison.
Late one night, 31-year-old Roberta Wydermyer left home. She told her husband she was going to a convenience store to pick up a few things, but she had actually planned to meet up with a former high school classmate.
Neither of those things ever happened, though, and Roberta never came home. She was later found, tied up in the trunk of her car with a bullet in her head. When the car was found, it was on fire.
The ensuing investigation and wrongful conviction would put Maurice Hastings behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit. Several witnesses said that Hastings was “maybe” seen near the scene of the crime, but no physical or forensic evidence linked him to it.
Despite the fact that Hastings had an alibi supported by several people, prosecutors sought the death penalty.
Wrongful Conviction Puts Man Behind Bars for 4 Decades
The first jury deadlocked, but the second didn’t. Hastings was found guilty of robbery-homicide and sexual assault — but he narrowly escaped a death sentence.
Instead, the jury gave Hastings a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. The 29-year-old man was blindsided and, throughout his long years in prison, he would adamantly maintain his innocence.
But claiming to be innocent was not all Hastings did. He wrote countless letters to protest the wrongful conviction and sought pro bono support from lawyers.
At the scene of the crime, an oral swab had been collected as part of a sexual assault kit. For more than 20 years, Hastings pleaded for the DNA to be tested. His pleas were ignored during the terms of two different District Attorneys.
Then one day, nearly four decades after Hastings was wrongfully convicted of murder and sexual assault, the Los Angeles Innocence Project at California State University got their hands on the DNA evidence that prosectors said they no longer had. A new District Attorney, George Gascón, was on a mission to investigate questionable convictions. It was the turning point.
How DNA Evidence Pointed to the Truth
As Hastings had insisted all along those 38 years he had spent in prison, the DNA evidence effectively excluded him as a possible suspect. Maurice Hastings was innocent.
More than that, the DNA matched that of another man: Kenneth Packnett, a convicted sex offender who had died in prison in 2020. Packet had been serving a 56-year sentence for kidnapping and rape.
When Hastings finally got his day in court, he wasn’t bitter. He wasn’t angry or vengeful. In fact, it was with amazing calm and relief that he took in the news. “It’s a lot of hopeless moments to go through,” he admitted sadly, “a lot of trials. But you know, it’s all worth it right now. Now I feel vindicated.”
Overturning the Wrongful Conviction
George Gascón, the Los Angeles County District Attorney, said, “What has happened to Mr. Hastings is a terrible injustice. 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 was immediately issued an official apology and declared “factually innocent” by a judge. He thanked the Innocence Project for working non-stop to clear his name and “the good men and women in leadership.”
“I prayed for many years that this day would come,” he said, tears in his eyes.
How One Man Is Looking Forward to Moving Forward
Hastings lost more than half of his life in prison because of the wrongful conviction, but the 69-year-old man is not looking back. “I’m looking forward to moving forward,” he said. Hastings is already enrolled in an entrepreneurship program and actively participating in outreach to homeless communities. “As time goes on,” he said, “I’ll look to do some other things that give back to people.”
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, since 1989, over 3,000 men and women in the United States have been convicted of crimes they didn’t commit. By their estimation, wrongful prison sentences amount to 29,500 years lost.
For Hastings, those 38 years of maintaining his innocence against all odds were long and hard. Despite evidence available to be tested and the dozens of people at the Innocence Project pushing for justice, in the end, it took the goodwill of a single person to get the ball rolling in the right direction.
DA George Gascón was willing to look at the old case again, taking the time to dig deeper and to insist that all evidence be thoroughly examined.
“It means a lot,” said Hastings after his wrongful conviction was cleared. “I’m grateful for the judge’s ruling and the apologies. Everything has been wonderful today. I’m ready to move forward with my life. I’m a happy man right now.”
More from Goalcast:
- Man Who Got Out of Prison for the 6th Time Spots His Arresting Officer – No One Could Have Predicted What He Did Next
- Two Teens Were Wrongfully Convicted and Spent 15 Years in Prison – Little Did They Know What Was Coming Next