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First of the California 12 Released from Prison after 36 Years

Justin Brooks, Michael Hanline and Alex Simpson

UPDATE: The California Innocence Project will host an Innocence March Vigil on December 13th at LA City Hall to encourage Governor Brown to grant clemency for the California 11.  Read a message from Director Justin Brooks here.

Michael Hanline has walked out of custody a free man after being imprisoned for 36 years—the longest wrongful incarceration in California history.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Donald Coleman ordered Hanline’s release after lawyers from the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law and the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office agreed that documents were withheld from Hanline at his original trial showing that others may have been responsible for the crime.  Additionally, new DNA evidence pointing to Hanline’s innocence undermined the District Attorney’s confidence in the conviction. This resulted in Hanline’s conviction being overturned by the courts, which led to today’s hearing and his release.

“I'm so thankful to be out of prison for the first time in 36 years,” Hanline said as he read from a written statement moments after he was released. “I always hoped this day would come, but I can’t believe that it’s happening today. I'm very happy to be standing here with my wife Sandee who has stood by me all the years. I especially want to thank the California Innocence Project.  They have stood by me for 15 years fighting for my freedom. I'm so grateful to them for everything they have done for me and for other wrongfully convicted men and women.”  

 Just a few years ago, Hanline’s case seemed to be all but over. A federal court denied his claim that he was wrongfully convicted after a years-long review of the facts of his case. His only other option appeared to be the granting of clemency from the Governor. The California Innocence Project presented his case for clemency as one of the California 12—12 factually innocent individuals the Project has identified who, for various reasons, have run out of legal options in their cases. Clemency petitions were presented to Governor Brown 18 months ago after a 712-mile Innocence March from San Diego to Sacramento by lawyers from the California Innocence Project.

Hanline was wrongfully convicted of the shooting death of victim J.T. McGarry in 1980. At the time, prosecutors argued Hanline was jealous of McGarry because the two were romantically involved with the same woman, and that Hanline and an accomplice killed McGarry in revenge. Hanline has always claimed others were responsible for the murder, and that he had been wrongfully accused.

The California Innocence Project began looking into Hanline’s case in 1999, the year the project was founded, and fought for years to obtain evidence from the 1978 murder.  He is the longest-serving individual in California’s history whose conviction was reversed on grounds of innocence.

“The reversal of Mike’s conviction should show to the Governor that the California 12 are truly innocent individuals who need the Governor to act,” said Justin P. Brooks, Director of the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law and one of the lawyers who walked 712 miles in the Innocence March.  “It’s amazing that Mike will finally be released after 36 years of wrongful incarceration.  It’s time for the rest of the California 12 to go home as well.”

“I’m very happy that this conviction was overturned, and I’m glad Mike gets to finally walk free after so long,” said Alex J. Simpson, Associate Director of the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law and the attorney who argued the petition.  “But our job doesn’t end until all the California 12 are free.”    

 About the California Innocence Project

The California Innocence Project is a California Western School of Law clinical program dedicated to the release of wrongfully convicted inmates and providing an outstanding educational experience for students enrolled in the clinic. The California Innocence Project receives approximately 2,000 claims from inmates each year and has earned the exoneration of 14 wrongfully convicted clients since its inception.