Michael Hanline is free at last!
Ventura County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Bennett granted a motion from the county district attorney April 22 to dismiss murder charges against the California Innocence Project client Hanline, the longest serving wrongfully imprisoned inmate in the state’s history.
Hanline is completely free for the first time since his false conviction in 1978, after being released from custody in November 2014 and ordered to wear a GPS monitor, while the Ventura County District Attorney’s office decided whether to ask for a new trial.
“Now, all I want to do is go fishing, ride my bike, spend time with my wife Sandy and do a little gardening,” Hanline told a large group of reporters after he walked out of the courthouse as an exonerated man.
The final phase of Hanline’s exoneration began when the California Innocence Project at California Western School of Law filed a motion to overturn his conviction, alleging the prosecution withheld DNA evidence in the case that would have exonerated him. That led to a judge’s reversal of Hanline’s conviction and his release in November 2014.
The Bite Heard ‘Round the World
The first hours after his release are documented in a video
produced by California Innocence Project attorney Michael A. Semanchik ‘10—where he takes a bite of a fast-food bacon-cheeseburger for the first time in decades. The video has been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
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 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. In 2010, a federal magistrate ruled that his conviction should be overturned. Unfortunately, another federal judge overruled the reversal. Hanline’s case seemed to be over, and his only other option appeared to be the granting of clemency from the Governor. His case was one of the California 12—a dozen cases where innocence clemency petitions were presented to Governor Brown 22 months ago after a 712-mile Innocence March from San Diego to Sacramento by lawyers from the California Innocence Project.
“Mike Hanline's case exemplifies the spirit of the California Innocence Project,” said CIP director Justin Brooks. “If we believe someone is innocent and there is even a small chance we can prove it, we will not give up. Mike's case took more than a decade of litigation to bring him home, but all was worth it the day we walked him out of prison and down to Carl's Jr., so he could try the hamburgers he'd been seeing on TV for so many years.”
“We were fortunate to have the cooperation of the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office on this case,” said Alex Simpson, Associate Director of the California Innocence Project and the attorney who argued the petition. “Mistakes were made many years ago, but they were willing to help us and remedy those mistakes.”
After his GPS bracelet was cut off, Hanline told a reporter that his first thought was: “Now I can wear my cowboy boots again.”