In 1978, Michael Hanline, now 69, was convicted of shooting and killing J.T. McGarry, a Southern California truck driver. Hanline has spent the last 36 years in prison, but soon he’ll be walking free.
The California Innocence Project pressured prosecutors into re-examining evidence, and on Wednesday a prosecutor and a judge overturned Hanline’s conviction.
During the first trial, DNA evidence and investigative reports were withheld from Hanline’s attorney. DNA analysis was not used in the initial investigation because the technology didn’t exist then. Ventura County prosecutors said an analysis this year found the DNA profile of an unidentified male, not Hanline.
"It's possible that Hanline did it, but we're not confident enough at this point that he's guilty to justify keeping him in prison,” said Ventura County special assistant district attorney Michael Schwartz.
McGarry was involved in a motorcycle gang at the time of his death. He dealt in drugs and ran motorcycle-oriented swap meets for the publishers of Easyriders magazine. He was found shot to death by the side of a highway on Nov. 12, 1978.
At the time of the murder, Hanline was romantically involved with McGarry’s former girlfriend. He was arrested later that November after using McGarry’s credit card following a trip to Northern California. At the time, prosecutors suggested Hanline shot McGarry out of jealousy.
Ventura County Superior Court Judge Donald Coleman ordered Hanline to return to court on Nov. 24 for a hearing, where he will be released on bail. The California Innocence Project said Hanline’s case represents the oldest conviction ever reversed in state history.
"It's amazing that Mike will finally be released after 36 years of wrongful incarceration," said Justin Brooks, the director of the project at California Western School of Law. "It's time for him to get back to his family and his life.”