By Leslie Acevedo
LOS ANGELES, CA – A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has found Maurice Hastings factually innocent of a crime he was sentenced for 38 years ago—the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board said Hasting’s exoneration “is a reminder of an enduring stain that may be never washed off.”
The Times Editorial Board, noting factual innocence “means the evidence proves conclusively that he did not commit the crime,” said prosecutors sought twice to execute Hastings, but the first trial ended in a mistrial and the second with a conviction and life without parole sentence.
“It is not for nothing that some critics refer to it as the ‘criminal legal system.’ The word ‘justice’ must be earned, and too often, our system falls short,” said the Times.
The Times commented the system failed Hastings and the victim, Roberta Wydermyer, explaining prosecutors had DNA evidence that could have cleared Hastings, but denied it the first time 23 years ago when requested, and later could not find it.
The Times Editorial Board adds the evidence, semen left in the victim’s body, was tested and did not match Hastings. However, the semen did match Kenneth Packnett, who has since died.
Hastings, who was 30 at the time of the conviction, was released from prison at 69.
The Editorial Board also noted a judge in Louisiana freed Sullivan Walter last year, 36 years after he was wrongfully convicted as a teenager, and in Missouri, Lamar Johnson was freed after about 28 years in prison when his conviction was overturned.
The current St. Louis chief prosecutor, a few years ago, found the key witness had recanted, previous prosecutors paid the witnesses’ expenses without disclosing it after two other people had confessed to the crime, said the Times, which argues the criminal justice system was focused on procedure and politics instead of wrongful imprisonment.
The National Registry of Exoneration adds people of color are more affected in wrongful convictions, as they “were far more likely to be wrongfully convicted in the first place.”
“Reform prosecutors around the nation have created conviction integrity units to discover and correct injustices perpetrated — usually unknowingly — by their predecessors. Most of the heavy lifting is done by outside organizations such as the Los Angeles Innocence Project, which championed Hastings’ case and helped put it before Dist. Atty. George Gascón,” wrote the Times.
The editorial board added, “Reexaminations of questionable convictions ought to be widely embraced by every player in the criminal justice system as the ultimate guarantor of the system’s legitimacy. But instead, such efforts are politically perilous.
“For example, the Missouri attorney general is attempting to remove Gardner, supposedly for neglecting her job. Gascón faces the wrath of his own deputies, many of whom supported two recall attempts against him.”