November 25, 2014
Man Freed After 34 Years: Witness Intimidation, Shady Deals Led To Conviction

Michael Hanline has been freed after 34 years in prison for a crime prosecutors say they aren't as sure about as they once were. The California Innocence Project got involved, engaging in years of investigation to discover that investigators and prosecutors worked together to deny Hanline a fair trial.

Now he's been freed on a $2,500 dollar bail. According to the Guardian, the man was joined by his wife in Ventura, Calif., where he was wearing a sweatshirt with a license plate saying "XONR8" for exonerate.

Prosecutors in Ventura County are now mulling whether they want a retrial for Mr. Hanline.

Hanline was originally convicted of killing Ventura resident J.T. McGarry 34 years ago in 1980, and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

According to the California Innocence Project, Bruce Robertson, a defense attorney who also worked as a drug dealer, steered the investigation towards Michael and away from his own clients. Robertson reportedly intimidated witnesses into testifying against Michael and convinced the court to seal documents essential for Hanline's exoneration.

Thirty-four years later and he has finally been freed. The California Innocence Project used DNA testing to finally overturn the initial conviction. It was difficult to undo Robertson's handiwork, which another investigator, District Court Magistrate Judge Andrew Wistrich, wrote in his own recommendation that Michael be freed.

"The prosecution was so successful in violating the trial court's orders and its constitutional obligation that by the time the exculpatory evidence came to light -- nearly three decades later -- many of the important witnesses had died or disappeared... Permitting the prosecutor to engage in this sort of gamesmanship with impunity signals that the constitutional rules established in Brady and its progeny are merely 'pretend rules' that need not be taken seriously."
Although Hanline is free, authorities will electronically monitor his movements and possibly conduct a retrial, even though prosecutors don't know if they could get a conviction 34 years after the fact. As the prosecutor Michael Schwartz explained, "we don't have confidence in the conviction at this point."

In any case, Hanline seemed to have a mixed response of anguish and joy at his own freedom.

"I've watched half my life go by behind bars. I always hoped this day would come, but I can't believe that it's happening today."
California is one of about 27 states to have a compensation statute for the wrongfully imprisoned, which can potentially give Hanline up to $100 a day. Whether the paycheck, which could be over $1 million, is worth 34 years of freedom is highly debatable.

In a similar case reported by the Inquisitr, another two men were freed from prison after being wrongfully convicted murder based on a thirteen year old's testimony.

[Image Credit: Emmanuel Huybrechts/Wikimedia Commons]