After 36 years of fighting tooth and nail to change his guilty verdict into one of innocence, Michael Hanline, 68, emerged out of Ventura County Jail on Monday, from the shadows of prison bars into the engulfing sunlight that beams down upon free men.
With the help of the California Innocence Project, which took up Hanline’s case in 1999, prosecutors agreed to reevaluate evidence and testimony from the original murder case in 1978.
According to the LA Times, Hanline had been convicted of first-degree murder without the possibility of parole in the case of motorcycle gang associate J.T. McGarry, whose body was found 30 miles from his home, riddled with bullet holes.
While prosecutors did not comment on Hanline’s innocence, what they did conclude was that the judiciary process had been compromised and the court could no longer, in good conscience, claim that Hanline was guilty beyond the shadow of a doubt.
“At the present time, the conviction integrity process has not concluded that Hanline is factually innocent,” the district attorney’s office said in a statement. “The district attorney will continue to evaluate the evidence to determine how to proceed.”
The possibility of a retrial is still being examined, so Hanline has been asked to wear a GPS monitoring device. If prosecutors do seek a retrial, it will be difficult to proceed since their key witness was admittedly smoking PCP-laced marijuana and snorting cocaine the night of the alleged murder. Mary Bischoff, Hanline’s girlfriend at the time of alleged murder, was also found to be under the influence of drugs during the trial when she testified against him.
Justin Brooks, executive director of the California Innocence Project, told reporters: “The system failed on this one. He spent 36 years for a crime in a prosecution that never should have happened."
After 36 years of false imprisonment, most would carry a feeling of fierce animosity towards prosecutors to say the least. As Hanline exited Ventura County Jail, however, there appeared to be no anger in his body – only the calming joy and relief of once again being a free man.
“I've watched half my life go by behind bars,” Hanline said. "I always hoped this day would come, but I can't believe that it's happening today. I feel like I'm in front of a missile and things are just flying by."
Source: LA Times / Photo: Associated Press