By David M. Greenwald
Los Angeles, CA – A man, Maurice Hastings, who has served more than 38 years in state prison for the 1983 murder of Roberta Wydermyer and two attempted murders, has been freed after his conviction was vacated on Friday.
The Conviction Integrity Unit joined with the Los Angeles Innocence Project at Cal State LA on Oct. 20 in requesting that his conviction be vacated and that he be immediately released from prison.
Judge William Ryan approved the request.
“What has happened to Mr. Hastings is a terrible injustice,” District Attorney George Gascón said. “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, 69, was freed after new DNA test results pointed conclusively to another suspect.
In 1983 Wydermyer’s body was found in the trunk of her vehicle and the cause of death was a single gunshot wound to her head. The coroner conducted a sexual assault examination which involved swabbing of various body parts, including an oral swab on which semen was detected.
Hastings was charged with a special circumstance murder and this office sought the ultimate punishment of death. After the first jury deadlocked, the second jury convicted him, and he was sentenced in 1988 to life in state prison without the possibility of parole.
However, from the time of his arrest, Hastings has maintained his innocence.
In 2000, he requested DNA testing to prove his innocence, but the request was denied by the LA District Attorney’s Office.
With the election of George Gascón, who prioritized a strong Conviction Integrity Unity and increased its staffing, Hastings submitted a claim of innocence.
Testing was performed this summer, and the test results came from an oral swab from the victim that contained semen. The swab was tested in June 2022 and excluded Hastings.
Moreover, the testing also produced a DNA profile that generated a hit when uploaded to the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, to a DNA profile linked to a known sex offender.
The DA”s office has not disclosed the identity of the individual at this point, but they said the individual was a convicted sex offender of similar physical description to Hastings, who was not previously considered a suspect, and died in prison in 2020 while serving a sentence for kidnapping and rape.
No physical evidence linked Hastings to the 1983 robbery-homicide and sexual assault in Inglewood, California, for which he was arrested and convicted; and numerous alibi witnesses attested to his whereabouts during the crime. Prosecutors sought to impose the death penalty following Hastings’ guilty verdict, but the jury instead sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The DA noted, “The analysis identified a match to a person in the database who had engaged in and been convicted of an armed kidnapping where he placed his female victim in a trunk of a vehicle as well as the kidnap, rape, and forcible oral copulation of a young woman for which he was sentenced to 56 years in custody. “
The DA’s office also noted, “We are working collaboratively and expeditiously with the Inglewood Police Department to conduct further investigation into the involvement of the deceased suspect in this case.”
The LA Innocence Project noted, “Maurice Hastings is far from a unique case. Unreliable eyewitness identifications, faulty forensics, and imperfect policing impact the vast majority of the cases we review at the Los Angeles Innocence Project.”
They added, “These are hallmarks of the criminal legal system—not exceptions.”
They said, “At LAIP, we work to correct these errors and prevent them from happening again by fighting for greater transparency in criminal investigations, higher standards for the evidence presented in criminal trials, and more accountability for prosecutors and law enforcement officials.”
They concluded, “We are thrilled to welcome Maurice home and continue to help him in the fight to fully clear his name. “